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30 October 2008 @ 03:21 pm
England's Last Revolution  
It transpires that my great, great, great, great grandfather's brother, German Buxton, managed to get himself transported to Australia for his participation in the Pentrich Uprising which John Stevens rather grandly terms "England's Last Revolution". Being the particular kind of geeky person that I am this has naturally lead to a fair amount of internet searching and a moderate investment in books about said Uprising.

John Stevens' book on the subject came as something of a shock. I read a fair number of history textbooks both for A Level and when I did an OU course on Early Modern Britain and France a few years back so I have some kind of feeling for what to expect. What I got was something much more straightforwardly narrative - which in some senses was good since my interest was primarily in what happened to German and not on debates about the wider context. I dimly remember Sir Gawain claiming to be an "old-style" narrative historian and wonder if this was the sort of thing he was referring to since it was written in 1977.

It's not that the book peddles a 1066 and all that style good king/bad king (or in this case good workers/bad government - or, of course, vice versa) approach to the story*. However it mostly contents itself with what is thought to have happened and the sources of that information and the speculation it indulges in as to why seems quite narrow in scope. It also contains quite lengthy quotes from original sources which I, at least, rather appreciated.

In short therefore the Pentrich Uprising consisted of about 300 men from Pentrich in Derbyshire (many press-ganged by the ring-leaders) and the surrounding villages who, convinced the entire country was on the brink of revolution, marched on Nottingham on the evening of the 9th June 1817. The revolution ended about eight miles later when a rather smaller group met up with soldiers near Kimberley, promptly turned and fled. About 40 were taken captive immediately and many others rounded up in the ensuing days. Although I say they met up with the soldiers only eight miles away from Pentrich it took them a good four or five hours to get there which seems a long time even allowing for 19th century roads and the fact it was the middle of the night. It transpires that they stopped at no less than four pubs en route!!! Revolution, it seems, was thirsty work. Three of the revolutionaries were hanged, fourteen, including my probable great great great great grand uncle were transported and a further six were jailed for periods between six months and two years.

One of the reasons Stevens may have opted to steer clear of too much analysis of the event was the rather murky involvement of "Oliver the Spy" an agent provocateur who had spent the winter of 1817 travelling all over the north and midlands of England generally both stirring up and reporting upon the 9th June plans for revolution. It is obviously difficult to gauge the extent to which the government was aware of the 9th June plans and even the extent to which the revolution was stage-managed. Stevens devotes a whole chapter to documenting Oliver's activities but at the end of the day it seems moderately clear that he hadn't met any of the Pentrich marchers in person and that while he may have encouraged a wider revolution while doing his information gathering thing, ultimately that wider revolution didn't happen. Oliver's involvement generated much excitement at the time, being exposed in the Leeds Mercury mere days after the uprising, but there certainly doesn't seem to be a simple story to tell about government manipulation of working class discontent for its own political ends.

As for my ancestor's brother, I learn from Stevens' book that the local ironworks manager, Goodwin, having pronounced Thomas Bacon, one of the ringleaders to be "a rascal", considered German to be "a worse". However in 1826 the Reverend John Dunmore Lang in Australia was to describe him as a "sober, industrious man". Mind you by that time German Buxton was running a quarry in Australia and had been ordered to cease work. The Reverend John Lang wanted his church finished and so perhaps his support of German in the dispute was not entirely disinterested.

* for this I refer the reader to the Socialist Appeal's write up of the event. It even has a moral at the end.**

**And when I just went to look the rather bizarre "stop press" headline that Stalin Cartoonist had just died. I can't help feeling that not much can be happening in the world of far left socialism if that counts as exciting news.