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Ludds On Tour #6: The Hampshire Hog Writes A Letter (Hampshire, 1816)

Part of Ludds on Tour, a series of blogs by Jack Dean looking at how the histories of places where Jeremiah  is touring relate to the events of the show.

William Cobbett was a complicated man, even by the standards of his day. Born in Farnham but settling in Botley in 1805, he was a wealthy landowner mainly known for being founder, writer and editor of The Political Register. This was a weekly newspaper that started off with Tory leanings but soon fell foul of the establishment after advocating universal suffrage and publishing recordings of parliamentary debates, which was illegal at the time (although it was less progressive in other ways, being pro-bear-baiting and mocking William Wilberforce for his support for ‘the fat and lazy and laughing and singing negroes‘). He spent two years in prison for “treasonous libel” because of the paper, leading to a cartoon being published titled “the Hampshire Hog in the Pound” (pictured above) essentially poking fun at the idea that jail was hardly going to slow down his money-grubbing schemes. Certainly Cobbett was a shrewd businessman. When the government started heavily taxing newspapers in a bid to quash dissent, Cobbett made a move way ahead of his time and purged all news content from the paper, leaving only pure opinion. This made it technically a “pamphlet” allowing it to circumvent the tax, and it was a huge hit, its circulation jumping from one to forty thousand. Critics called this new paper “the twopenny trash”. Cobbett was so unphased by his haters that he adopted the moniker himself.

             It was in this publication on November 30 that Cobbett published his “Letter to the Luddites”. This hefty nine-and-a-half-thousand-word article touches on a lot, including a whole set of tables regarding the price of produce, but in essence tells them that all their problems are due to taxation (which you can probably figure out from the above, he was not a fan of) and the government’s quantitative easing, or as he calls it “the paper-money bubble”. In essence then, though he declares sympathy with their plight, he propounds the idea that the Luddites had merely some sort of blinkered, technophobic fixation on destroying machinery, rather than an agenda for social change, an idea echoed later by Marx, and still commonly held to this day. He pretty nakedly states this somewhat condescending view in his final paragraph:

“For past errors I make all possible allowance. We all fall into errors enough naturally; and, no wonder that you should have adopted erroneous notions, seeing that the corrupt press has, for so many years been at work to deceive and mislead you. This base press, knowing what would be the inevitable consequence of your seeing the real causes of your calamities, has incessantly laboured to blind you, or to direct your eyes towards an imaginary cause. Machines, Bakers, Butchers, Brewers, Millers; any thing but the taxes and the paper-money, in all the acts of violence to which you have been led by these vile hirelings you have greatly favored the cause of corruption, which is never so much delighted as at the sight of troops acting against the people.” 

The Political Register had a wide working-class circulation, and was read outside London, so this article may not have been wholly screaming into a void. But the complex arguments of a complex man could not quell the Luddites’ anger, and the sight of troops acting against the people would come in the following year on a dramatic scale. But to find out about that, you’ll need to come see the show. Or I guess, look it up on Wikipedia. But the show will be more fun, promise.

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Ludds On Tour #5: Radcliffe’s Army (Harrogate / Huddersflield, 1812)

Part of Ludds on Tour, a series of blogs by Jack Dean looking at how the histories of towns where Jeremiah’s touring relate to the events of the show.

[Okay, so although Joseph Radcliffe’s dynasty of Baronets would not take up their family seat in Rudding Park, Harrogate (which they owned until 1972) until a few years after his death, his role in the Luddite Rebellion makes the tenuous connection worthwhile.]

Radcliffe was the Magistrate of Huddersfield during a high-water-mark of the Rebellion: the assassination of William Horsfall. Horsfall was a mill owner in Marsden who had previously stated his plans to “ride up to his saddle girth in Luddite blood”. This may sound hyperbolic, but in the violent context of the time, where private police forces were often hired and deployed to crush Luddite attacks, it could be taken more seriously. Ultimately, the Luddites got to Horsfall first. Four men ambushed him on his way to market and shot him off his horse. One accountof what happened next gives another indication of the civil tensions at play:

“as soon as he fell after being wounded the inhuman populace surrounding him reproached him with having been the oppressor of the poor — they did not offer assistance — nor did any one attempt to pursue or secure the assassins who were seen to retire to an adjoining wood.”

Clearly not a popular guy. After his death, Radcliffe brought hundreds of troops to the area to track down the killers. Eventually four were arrested and put on trial, and Radcliffe led the prosecution. The confession of one of them, Benjamin Walker, sealed the fate of the other three while saving his own, and William Thorpe, Thomas Smith and George Mellor were hanged in January 1813. Shortly after, Radcliffe’s army helped track down and hang 14 more luddites for a raid on Rawfold’s mill.

Many were in favour of this kind of brutal repression. In fact, a few months later, the bourgeoisie of West Yorkshire clubbed together and commissioned a portrait of Radcliffe (pictured above) to say thank you. Nonetheless, while Horsfall’s saddle never saw Luddite blood, the first Baronet Radcliffe would see enough for both of them.

[PS, if anyone knows anything about Sir Sebastian Everard Radcliffe, the currently alive 7th Baronet Radcliffe, please do let me know. Keen to find out what he’s up to (probably not hanging people any more, but you never know!)]

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Ludds On Tour #4: Onion-gate (Ipswich, 1816)

Part of Ludds on Tour, a series of blogs by Jack Dean looking at how the histories of towns where Jeremiah’s touring relate to the events of the show.

The South East saw plenty of machinery-smashing in the 1800s, albeit of different contraptions than in the North. The threshing machine, invented in 1786, removed the seeds of grain from the stalks and husks, a job formerly done by hand with flails. Their destruction would reach its peak in the Swing Riots of 1830, a kind of sequel to the Luddite Rebellion that had its own fictional leader (the excellently named “Captain Swing”) and similarly saw hundreds of machines destroyed, dozens of men hanged and thousands arrested. But the first rumblings of discontent could be felt decades earlier. On the 25thof February 1816, 8 men who had been arrested four days before for breaking threshing machines at Gosbeck were send to Ipswich Gaol (now the site of Great White Horse Hotel). An unhappy crowd assembled, and the Magistrate who would be presiding over their trial, and refused bail to all but two of them, was pelted with objects and forced to take cover inside until they dispersed . Or was he? According to Luddite Bicentenary:

“Accounts….differed between the Bury & Norwich Post and the more local paper, the Ipswich Journal, which differed principally over whether or not objects were thrown (The Bury & Norwich Post having the last word and insisting an onion was thrown, hitting one of the Magistrates)”.

I bet the 1810s equivalent of sandwich-boards read “SOLID PROOF OF ONION THROWN IN MAGISTRATE KERFUFFLE”. Local journalism hasn’t changed much, and I kind of love that.

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Ludds On Tour #3: Twisting In at the Crispin Inn (Halifax, 1813)

Part of Ludds on Tour, a series of blogs by Jack Dean looking at how historical events in towns where Jeremiah is touring relate to the story of the show.

Although the Luddite Rebellion very quickly prompted the passing of the Frame-Breaking Act, which made the destruction of machinery a hangable offence, no-one was ever actually sentenced to death under this act. Instead, prosecutors preferred to use existing legislation, trying Luddites for assault, destruction of property, or when those were not possible, using more creative means.

John Baines of Halifax and his son (inventively also named John Baines), along with three of his friends, were charged in January 1813 with administering an illegal oath. The oath in question happened at the Crispin Inn, a pub that stood on Winding Road, a mere two minute walk down the same road that Square Chapel now stands on. It was called the Luddite Oath, one sworn by members of the group on joining, a process they called “twisting in”. They would lay their hand on a “small book” (presumably a bible) and recite:

“I, [name] of my own free will and accord do hereby promise and swear that I will never reveal any of the names of any one of this secret Committee, under the penalty of being sent out of this world by the first Brother that may meet me. I furthermore do swear, that I will pursue with unceasing vengeance any Traitors or Traitor, should there any arise, should he fly to the verge of —- I furthermore do swear that I will be sober and faithful, in all my dealings with all my Brothers, and if ever I decline them, my name to be blotted out from the list of Society and never to be remembered, but with contempt and abhorrence, so help me God to keep this our Oath inviolate.”

Unluckily for these men, one of the fellows present, John McDonald, was willing to risk pursuit with unceasing vengeance. An informer for the government, his testimony saw them sentenced to transportation to Australia. John Baines, already an old man, died there two years later aboard a prison ship. The other men were pardoned in 1816, but whether they made it home is not yet known. Scout’s honour.

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Ludds On Tour #2: Riots Uptown (Sheffield, 1812)

Part of Ludds on Tour, a series of blogs by Jack Dean looking at how the histories of towns where Jeremiah is touring relate to the events of the show.

Never get in between a Yorkshireman and his stomach, especially not in the waking nightmare and the BBC’sfourth worst year in British History that was the year of 1812. The Napoleonic wars dragged on, the economy was in tailspin, the Prime Minister had been murdered in the lobby of the Commons and his assassin had been cheered by the gathering crowd. While the Luddites were making targeted raids on industrial machinery, thousands across the North were erupting into spontaneous fights for that most basic of resources: food.

The Sheffield Cutlers used to employ hundreds in the town before this Annus Horribilis. But after half the workers had been laid off, they were now in a compulsory workfare programme, “Dressed in rags and forced to wear clogs as a ‘badge of receiving parish relief” (for no greater shame can come than being made to dress like a Dutchman). On April 14th, these men came to town to buy lunch and a dispute erupted over the price of potatoes. The dispute turned quickly into riot, with people grabbing everything they could from stalls, and though local volunteer police suppressed it, a small group, watched by a crowd of around 5000, moved on to raid the local Militia’s weapons store in the western outskirts of the town (the Militia was the army’s domestic reserve force, but their role in suppressing dissent at the time made them a popular target for attacks). The two soldiers guarding the store tried to hold their ground, but were pelted with rocks and fled. 900 rifles were taken out of the store: some were destroyed when no ammunition could be found, many were kept.  Although a cavalry regiment showed up shortly after, made some arrests and dispersed the crowd, most of the weapons were never recovered.

The knife-edge tension of a city with an armed populace, skirmishing with an occupying army in their midst, without enough money to get a simple potato, must have been unbearably intense. Civil war must have been a fairly high possibility. We know now that the war would end, the military response would scale back, and conditions would gradually improve. But they didn’t.

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Ludds On Tour #1: The Mother Of All Lock-ins (London, 1817)

Ludds On Tour #1: The Mother Of All Lock-ins (London, 1817)

Part of Ludds on Tour, a series of blogs by Jack Dean looking at how the histories of the places where Jeremiah is touring relate to the events of the show.

As an on-and-off member of political parties and groups over the last few years, I’ve been used to meeting in council back-offices, small community halls and the occasional pristine Quaker Meeting House. I could not imagine any of them holding their AGM down the pub. But this was exactly where the Hampden Club, one of the most radical and widespread political organisations of the time, would gather its members, first in London, then in chapters throughout the country.

 It’s hard to understate the significance of the pub to daily life in Georgian England: they were civic centres that served as Town Hall, dining room, living room and wedding venue to their local communities.  As such, they were often the most lavish building in the area. Michael Parkin, in The Making of A Radical, describes the Crown and Anchor on Arundel Street, the site of the meeting:

“Enriched Carved Cornices circled the ceiling, which featured two large moulded centrepieces of carved flowers supporting the room’s chandeliers… festoons cascaded from the walls of an arched recess at the western end of the room, with the walls adorned with a frieze of eight panels… reportedly capable of hosting concerts, balls and banquets for at least 2000 people.” 

The fanciest pub in London was an appropriate meeting place for a group that aimed to bring working and middle-class progressives together. The Hampden Club took its name from Parliamentarian English Civil War general John Hampden, who, as one of the members of Parliament that Charles I tried to arrest, was and is held as a symbol of parliamentary independence (he’s the guy behind the slamming of the doors on the Queen’s messenger, one of the many bizarre rituals at the State Opening of Parliament). It had an eccentric mix of members: there was Major Cartwright, a naval officer who’d been kicked out for his political opinions, and Francis Burdett , an MP from the self-named Radical group who won his seat of Westminster after challenging his opponent to a duel and shooting him in the leg. Also present was Tommy Bacon, friend of Jeremiah Brandreth and one of the masterminds behind the Pentrich Rising (the event some historians call the last event of the Luddite Rebellion, and wot I talk about in the show).

            The members were gathered to debate the subject that was central to their cause: electoral reform. The proportion of the country who could vote at this time was laughably small: more than half the Members in parliament were elected by 100 voters or less. Like so many progressive causes, the Hampdens had to decide whether to triangulate their position for a broader appeal, or stick to their principles. The motion for a more “radical” bill to be submitted by Burdett, demanding universal male suffrage, vote by secret ballot and redrawing of gerrymandered constituencies, defeated a more “moderate” one that kept some property requirements for voting and an open ballot (ie one that could be influenced by bribery or threats). It’s hard to imagine any of these ideas as radical now, but the Times’ contemptuous description of the bill as “endeavouring…not only to overthrow the constitution directly and openly, but to subvert the very nature and habits of Englishmen”, and its ultimate defeat in Parliament, reminds me of that Mark Steel quote:“there are some people who think centre ground is a pretty horrible place”.