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Luddite Spring: Episode 11 - The Gledhills

...Mary felt his fear and adding it to her own, said, without lifting her head, “What must be done, Seth, you must do. I know we cannot let fear overcome us when the time comes to be brave, Seth. You are a good and strong man and I trust you to act right. We shall be alright.”...

Downtrodden millworkers begin to think of fighting back.

Ronnie Bray continues his novel set in Yorkshire in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

Those brave enough to call Mary Gledhill’s death murder did so in soft and guarded voices. If their opinions reached the ears of the murderer or his baillies, the family would have been dismissed from its employment. They would be homeless, penniless, and socially vile. Consequently, none would dare to lift a finger to help them lest they shared their fate. Not all slaves wore chains of iron.

Sarah Gledhill knew that her man was angry at Staithes and that he was even angrier with himself because he dared not stand up against the murdering master whose employment he needed. Gledhill’s rented home was a commonplace sandstone dwelling with one room upstairs and one downstairs that stood shoulder to shoulder with its neighbours in the long rows standing in the shadow of the mill. It was Gledhill’s for just as long as he was employed in Staithes’ mill as a cropper. If he lost his job he lost his house.

Power looms and cropping frames threatened to eliminate hand cropping, but while looms did produce cloth with smoother surfaces, for a while croppers had to finish it by hand. Cropping shears were more than four feet long and weighed as much as fifty pounds a pair. Because of the high level of their skill in finishing cloth, croppers were an elite.
Handloom weavers were no longer required because their work was accomplished by power looms but needed little skill or strength to work. Women and children now did work once done by men, that were thrown out of work. Wages fell and food prices rose, hitting the poor hard. As a result, discontent among workers in textile mills led to civil disorder in Derbyshire, Nottingham, Lancashire, and Yorkshire, the major centres of the English textile trade. Factories were burned, machines smashed, and employers threatened. These were the desperate endeavours to fend off starvation. Government looked upon them as treason and made them capital crimes punishable by hanging, followed by drawing and quartering.
The poor rightly believed their goals could not be accomplished without preventing the introduction of power machines.

Workers were indisputably at the bottom of the social heap. As the Industrial Revolution advanced they suffered repeated contractions of their standard of living. Hunger and malnutrition was the norm. A song of the times explained that starvation was the major enemy of the poor, and showed they had at that time little interest in political action. They failed to realise that improvement could only come about by political action. A song of the times voices their concern.

‘Hunting A Loaf’

Good people I pray, now hear what I say,
And pray do not call it sedition;
For these great men of late
they have cracked my poor pate:
I'm wounded, in a woeful condition.


And sing fal lal the diddle i do,
Sing fal the diddle i do,
Sing fal the lal day.

For in Derby it's true and in Nottingham too,
Poor men to the jail they've been taking;
They say that Ned Ludd,
As I understood,
A thousand wide frames has been breaking.

Now it is not bad there's no work to be had,
The poor to be starved in their station;
And if they do steal
They’re straight sent to jail,
And they're hanged by the laws of the nation.

Since this time last year I've been very queer,
And I've had a sad national cross;
I've been up and down
From town to town,
With a shilling to buy a big loaf.

The first that I met was Sir Francis Burdett,
He told me he'd been in the Tower;
I told him my mind
A big loaf was to find,
He said, "You must ask them in power."

Then I thought it was time to speak to the Prime,
For Perceval would take my part;
But a Liverpool man
Soon ended the plan:
With a pistol he shot through his heart.

Then I thought he'd a chance on a rope for to dance,
Some people would think very pretty;
But he lost all his fun,
Through the country he'd run,
And he found it in fair London City.

Now ending my song I'll sit down with my ale,
And I'll drink a good health to the poor;
With a glass of good ale
I have told you my tale,
And I'll look for a big loaf no more.

“I wonder what will become of us, lass,” Gledhill asked softly.

“Nay, lad, I don’t know. We must do our best to last so that if better times do come we shall still be here to enjoy them. We have to think of our bairns and hang on.”

“I wonder if we can hang on, or whether we shall have to take a hand in making things better ourselves.”

“How would we do that, Seth?”

“I don’t know, lass. But since things are always getting worse and never get better Waiting for things to get better by themselves or through the masters having a change of heart is like chasing a flock of wild geese. It’s just not going to happen. If it was, it would have happened by now as things have become terribly bad these past years.”

“Just you don’t go getting yourself into trouble, Seth Gledhill, that’s all. We’ve all on to manage now without our Mary’s wages without you getting thrown out of work for your trouble.”

“I’m not making any promises I might not be able to keep, our Sarah. Nobody knows what will come if things. Who knows how long us croppers will keep our jobs? The machines are eating into our lives and nobody cares unless they feel the bite.”

“Well, just you be careful, my lad. That’s all I’m saying.”

“I will, lass. I will. I’ll promise you that. I shall be as careful as I can, but the day might come when I shall not be able to hide behind care any longer, and then it might be a race into the darkness to stop the madness.”

He pulled Mary towards him and buried her face in his chest, tightening his grip as if he was afraid some power might take her from him.

Mary felt his fear and adding it to her own, said, without lifting her head, “What must be done, Seth, you must do. I know we cannot let fear overcome us when the time comes to be brave, Seth. You are a good and strong man and I trust you to act right. We shall be alright.”

“Whether we shall or not I cannot tell. But I give you my word, my Mary, that I shall do my best to do whatever needs doing.”

They kissed, mixing their tears on their touching cheeks, each hoping that good sense would prevail and they could step back away from their fears before the unthinkable happened.


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