Posts Tagged ‘pentrich’

The Pentrich uprising

June 30, 2017

DSCN0961It is 100 years since the Russian Revolution of 1917, but the village of Pentrich in Derbyshire is celebrating the anniversary, 100 years earlier of its own “revolution”. It was one of the first workers’ uprisings, coming at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It was the last armed uprising in the UK.

On the 9th June 1817, 200-400 workers with sticks, pitchforks, pikes and a few guns marched from the village of Pentrich to Nottingham, with the idea that they would be part of a national uprising to overthrow Lord Liverpool’s Tory government and install a workers’ government in its place.

Today, Pentrich is a quiet village, but it has few of the picture postcard cottages that most villages in Derbyshire have. Just over 100 people live in Pentrich at the last census. However, in 1817, around 700 people lived here. A mine had been discovered in 1750, and a canal dug in 1794. The Butterley ironworks (which made the roof of St Pancras Station) opened in 1790 and employed some 700 workers from the surrounding area.

With the Industrial Revolution came mechanisation – small farmers were forced out of business, and replaced with day labourers (the equivalent of today’s zero hour contracts). Textile workers, handloom weavers, knitters and lace makers were also being replaced with factories, whose steam-powered frames were forcing down prices and therefore wages.

In 1815, the Napoleonic Wars ended and 10,000 soldiers returned to the UK – today servicemen still receive inadequate support for their physical or mental health – in 1815, before any national health service, before the concept of psychiatry, there would be nothing in the way of support. Furthermore, the ending of the war further reduced demands for iron and textiles. The war had increased the national debt to 200% of GDP (today it stands at 80% of GDP). Lord Liverpool’s response was to abolish income tax and replace this with more direct taxation, benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor.

What little support there was came in the form of poor relief, but this was paid for locally, and represented an extra burden on the villagers.

In 1815 a volcano in Mount Tambora, Indonesia, recorded the largest eruption in recorded history. The effect was to turn summer into winter for the whole of 1816 – frosts wrecked the crops and the price of bread and potatoes doubled.

Unsurprisingly, workers were fighting back. In 1812, the first trade union of framework knitters was formed. they struck for minimum wages. The government had its own anti-trade union legislation at the time, in the form of the Combination Acts, which made it illegal to have collective bargaining or trade unions. The leader of the framework knitters’ union was sentenced to one month’s hard labour.

The response to mechanisation came in the form of the Luddites, who were active in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Workers at the Heathcotes textile factory had suffered a third cut in wages, and in Loughborough 53 machines were smashed. Only one person was found guilty, due to a code of silence amongst the workplace.

The Tory government was terrified of a repeat of the French Revolution, just 20 years earlier. they introduced the Seditious Meetings Act, which forbade an assembly of more than 50 people. It was not until 1986 that this Act was repealed, and assemblies can still be declared unlawful today.

The village people held a meeting to plan their revenge, but unbeknownst to them, a spy, William Oliver, was in their ranks. The authorities still spy on trade unionists and socialists today, and spied on the predecessor of the Socialist Party, Militant Labour. A police officer recently began relationships with members of an environmental group, amounting to rape.

The agent provocateur William Oliver spread a fantastic tale of 70,000 ready to join the uprising in London, 150,000 in Birmingham and 90,000 in Manchester. In the event of the 9th June, 100 rose up in Nottingham and 60 from Huddersfield, but it was clear that no mass uprising was going to develop.

The men from the village left in the dead of night, in pouring rain. They got as far as Giltbrook, where they stopped at a pub. However, the landlord, appraised of the fate of their endeavour, offered to hide them in the cellar. Their leader courageously insisted that they should press on to meet their fate.

By the time they arrived in Nottingham, the men were arrested by the light dragoons. It was reported erroneously in the press that the troops repulsed an attack, when in fact they were the aggressors.

The leaders of the uprising were hung and their houses demolished, which is why there are no pretty picture-postcard cottages in the village of Pentrich. Some were jailed and others deported to Australia. The village has held a number of commemorative walks to celebrate and in Australia, there have also been re-enactments of the events of 200 years ago.

Workers will keep struggling against oppression, whatever is thrown at them. What is needed is a mass revolutionary party to force revolutionary struggles to their logical conclusion – the overthrow of capitalism.

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Abandoned railway station by the Butterley Ironworks.