History Talk 30 April

CANCELLED.

History Talk with York Alternative History & York Social

Date:               Wednesday, 30 April 2014, at 7.30 pm

Venue:            Denham Room, Priory Street Centre

Speakers:       Pat and Martin Bashforth

Title:               Diverse Evill-Disposed Persons

Behind the modern, comfortable presentation of Cannon Hall Country House Museum lie tales of war, revolution, murder, migration, poverty, theft, injustice and the role of women in the social turbulence of 17th century Yorkshire. A04 - Title Page

Can we combine history research with contemporary art practice to represent the past in today’s landscape?

Do these ignored stories surrounding Cannon Hall have any relevance to life in the 21st century?

What chance does such an ‘alternative history’ have of being seen and heard?

Pat and Martin Bashforth will use a variety of media to explore and present their research into the past and present of Cannon Hall and its surrounding landscape and invite your answers to questions like these.

[Free entry on the door, with a collection]

York’s History From Below Workshop, 2nd November

York’s History From Below
Clements Hall History Days
2.15-3.45, Clements Hall, Art Room
Organized by York’s Alternative History

York has an official history. You can see it in our museum displays, on the plaques on the city¹s walls and in the Visit York advertising. This York is a place of Romans, Vikings and Railways, of benevolent Quaker employers, of lovely medieval streets and of chocolate and tea shops. But we know there are many other Yorks and many other histories.

To explore ‘York’s History From Below’ this workshop will ask three questions:

· Which histories does York remember? Does the ‘official history’ hold dangers for York as a city today?
· Which histories should we remember?
· How can we change York’s public histories? How might more plural sense of York’s history lead to a more inclusive and equal city today?

York’s Alternative History is a group of local people aiming to ‘put the politics’ in York’s histories and heritage. We are interested in radical histories of York and interested in the political implications of how York manages its ‘heritage’ today.

This workshop is also linked to the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research project: How should decisions about heritage be
made?

Next YAH Open Meeting

There will be no open meeting during August. The next one is scheduled for Wednesday 25 September, so pencil it in your diaries and watch out for the notice.

Meanwhile, various things are being organised. On Monday, 30 September at the Golden Ball from 7.30 there will be the next joint meeting organised by York Alternative History and York Social. Nick Smith will be leading a discussion on ‘A History of Englishness’. It will look at how and why England was created as a kingdom/country; the political motivation, spin, propaganda and creation myths that established England and what it means to be English. He will link this to how nationalist groups use these ideas from the early Middle Ages. If you have been watching the recent series on TV about ‘King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons’, this will be a fascinating alternative view.

On 17 October, there will be an Anti-Slavery Film Evening. Put that date in your diary and watch out for more information.

Some time in the autumn, there will be a new initiative that will get us out into the public domain in a high profile way. We will be involved in a project that will critically engage the public in thinking about York and how ‘Heritage’ affects the city and its people. Watch this space for further announcements. This will give us the chance to challenge the ‘authorised heritage discourse’.

Two big things for autumn 2014. We are helping out with events to do with the commemorations of the ‘Great War’ that was supposed to end all wars and in fact laid the foundations for most of the ones ever since. On our own efforts we will also be doing something similar to only different from our Luddite event last January: we will be looking at the way Guy Fawkes has been characterised through ‘heritage’ and used by the activist movements in recent years.

Open Meeting Wednesday 24 July

The next open meeting of York’s Alternative History will be at the Golden Ball, Cromwell Road, York on Wednesday 24 July from 7 to 9 pm. You are all welcome!

During the past week, the Rowntree Foundation, the York Press and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, have each drawn attention to the poverty and hardship that underlies and, through high rents and low pay, underpins the superficial prosperity of the City. York continues its transition from a manufacturing centre to a twin-track economic structure in which a low-paid sector provides services to tourism, finance and a high-tech and academic elite. As factories close, cafes and restaurants seem to mushroom.

Much of this false economy, which includes the East Coast Main Line commuters attracted to live here while working in London, exploits a fanciful and skewed interpretation of York’s historic fabric. What is superficially entertaining and good to look at is foregrounded, while submerging and ignoring the ordinary people of York and their experience – not just in the past, but equally in the present and in formulating policies for the future.

Challenging this ‘chocolate-box’ version of York’s past is what YAH is all about. We campaign about history and heritage in parallel with other forms of social and cultural activism. How the past is presented is part of today’s social problems and the prevalent inequality. We are planning events for more than a year ahead and welcome new ideas to help us shape our agenda and make our small voice louder and more colourful. Help us plan this year how to challenge the way Guy Fawkes is presented and next year how the ‘Great War’ to end all wars is going to be commemorated. Help us devise a programme of public talks, events and interventions. See you on Wednesday!

Next Open Meeting: New Venue

The next open meeting of York’s Alternative History will be on Wednesday, 19 June at 7 pm at The Corner Pin, bottom end of Tanner Row, York. Please note the change of venue!!

There is lots to talk about – the latest developments in planning to counter-act the State’s ‘Great War Fest’ in 2014, ideas for the next pub discussion meeting following the successful one on the Suffragettes, what to do about the way Guy Fawkes is commemorated, how what we do links to present day activism, and some other great ways of challenging ‘Heritage York’ on behalf of the living! Everyone welcome. See you there.

2014 – The Commemoration to End All Wars?

By Jingo! For radical historians and anti-militarist activists, the official commemoration of the First World War in 2014 represents a huge challenge. Perhaps it is also a huge opportunity.

There is hardly a community or a family that does not have a connection to the First World War. They will not just be looking back to the past. They will be aware of the wars going on around us – the legacy of what was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’. The Government is already putting itself into a position to control the way in which it is ‘celebrated’, much as it has done since 1919 (read more of this below).

Opposition is already growing to the State’s official plans. An open letter and petition has been launched through the Stop the War Coalition. You can sign up your support at http://ww1.stopwar.org.uk/ . But you can do more than this to help.

All round the country, activists and radical historians are planning their own events to try to counter the inevitable jingoism. They have started an email discussion group to share ideas and plans. York Alternative History will be part of this movement of cultural resistance alongside other groups in the city.

Come to our next meeting and add your active support to what will be happening. Plans are already under way for a day school and for a series of films. More ideas are needed.

NEXT MEETING: Wednesday, 19 June, at 7 pm in THE CORNER PIN, Tanner Row, York.

 

WHAT WE ARE UP AGAINST

There is a massive disparity in terms of resources between officially sponsored events and those that radical and alternative groups will be able to muster. The Coalition Government has announced plans to arrange a long series of commemorations related to the First World War, starting in 2014, the centenary of its outbreak. They are replicating what was done in 1919, when the popular desire for Remembrance was hijacked by the State and the Church. They have already set aside some £55 million. The lion’s share of the cash (£35 million) has already gone to the Imperial War Museum for renovation work. More than £5 million is to be pumped into the school system to take maintained secondary school children to the ‘great battlefields’. The DCMS includes in its sums £15 million which actually comes from the Heritage Lottery Fund (see below).

The spend will not stop at £55 million, as none of this figure includes future events yet to be decided upon.

The DCMS has appointed a ‘prestigious centenary advisory board’ to oversee events yet to be planned. Of the 16 people so far nominated, there are only two historians, both right wing military specialists. There are five politicians, all right wing and/or with backgrounds in defence affairs, including another military historian. There are four representatives of the armed forces, all retired chiefs of staff. The Church is represented by the Dean of Salisbury, while ‘cultural’ influence is confined to two writers, Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks, both authors of sentimentalised representations of the First World War, and the President of the National Library of Wales. Scotland is not represented – they have their own Five Year Plan.

Other powerful bodies will be adding their weight to these State sponsored events. Top of the list is the archaically titled Imperial War Museum, which is encouraging local community events and has its own dedicated website already in operation at http://www.1914.org/ . Numerous local projects have already joined in, alongside historical associations of one sort or another. Should we be a part of this, inside the tent as it were?

Funding for these projects is available through the Heritage Lottery Fund in blocks from £3k-£10k, £10k-£100k, and over £100k. They claim to have already issued over £12 million to related projects since April 2010. Much of the larger grants will be going to museums and other official bodies to fund their own projects. The HLF don’t say how much money they have in total for this aspect of their work, but the DCMS says it is ‘at least £15 million’, of which £6 million is specifically targeted at young people. Does this represent an opportunity for radical groups to test the waters as to whether or not we can access this type of resource?

 

Luddite Photos on the Gallery Page

Hi folks! Check out the new Gallery page (see tab at the top). Underneath you will find three pages of photos selected from scores taken during York’s strictly unofficial 19 January commemorative events for the Luddites.

Luddites at the Guildhall York

For 90 people to turn out on a chilly, miserable Saturday afternoon, to sit in York’s draughty Guildhall and listen to a couple of hours of talks on a relatively ignored piece of York’s history has to be some sort of triumph for York’s Alternative History. What follows is a personal sense of this part of the day’s events, and my reflections on what the speakers had to say rather than a summary of their talks (which YAH hopes to provide elsewhere).

As commented by Adam Gutteridge, who chaired proceedings with a light and unobtrusive touch, YAH had originally booked the Council Chamber, where the warmth, comfort and acoustics would have been better. Nevertheless the historical setting we were given lent its own ambience.

Adam skilfully introduced the speakers, setting the event into the context of YAH’s aim to interest the general public in a re-engagement with York’s past outside the constraints of what tends to be publicly portrayed by events such as last year’s York 800, now mercifully past. The test of speakers of such high calibre is whether one comes away wiser, in this case with a better understanding of the Luddite rebellion in the West Riding in 1812, its dénouement in York in January 1813 and its continued relevance today. We were handsomely rewarded.

Katrina Navickas (University of Hertfordshire) wove an intricate argument that set into context the seemingly desperate attempt at armed rebellion against the local manufacturers and, by implication, the State that lay behind them with a massive military presence in Yorkshire. These were skilled workers rather than self-employed artisans, threatened with the loss of their livelihoods, who had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Parliament of their case. They were supported within a community and culture intrinsic to the landscape of the Calder Valley and the West Riding Pennines, with its valleys, hamlets and market towns. Support came from many other trades than the cloth-dressers or ‘croppers’. They sought to defend what they regarded as their common rights against the private interests of a handful of manufacturers. Their defence of what they called ‘the commonality’ echoes interestingly with our own fears in 2013 for our own ‘commonality’ under threat from cuts, outsourcing and corporate aggression. They were not a lot different from us in that regard.

Malcolm Chase (University of Leeds) spread his analysis beyond the immediate issue of the Luddites. With case after case, he described York Castle and its 800 year role as the main centre in the North for political and social repression, second only to London. I could not help but note that this division of labour exactly matched the organisation of the Church of England into its two provinces, with York the administrative centre of the Northern Province. From medieval times, York was frequently chosen to handle the legal repression of revolts and opposition to the State, and not merely in Yorkshire or the North generally. You would have struggled to have found anything of this in last year’s fatuous York 800 junkets or in the way in which York’s history is customarily portrayed by public institutions. York Castle (and the former Tyburn on the Knavesmire) was the scene of multiple cases of mass trial and executions until the 19th century. Only then did public sensitivity begin to recoil from this conspicuous brutality and some slight reform of the jail system begin to be effected. But York’s former black role should not be ignored in its present day historical presentation. Our commemorating the execution and trial of the Luddites points at only one small fragment of this bloody heritage.

Alan Brooke (from Huddersfield Local History Society and co-author of Liberty or Death), dressed appropriately in contemporary Luddite costume, explored the legacy of Luddism. If in one sense it was not spoken about in the Huddersfield area in years afterwards, that was part of the close culture of the people protecting their own and reflecting the extreme secrecy within which the Luddites had organised. Luddism was only one of three revolts in those times in which Huddersfield people took part. It seeped into local consciousness. To a degree it was also a precursor to Huddersfield’s unusual level of conscientious objection in 1914-18. But Alan also traced the influences through dystopian literature, the politics of Bavarian revolt in 1919 and through to modern debates about technology in society. It is useful to understand that the re-appraisal of the Luddites by today’s historians has its counterpart in current political and social movements. There is an ongoing debate as to whether we can build a relationship with technology that is not fundamentally de-humanising, degrading and impoverishing of all but a minority. Livelihoods continue to be mercilessly destroyed in the name of a ‘progress’ that seems to have little to do with human well-being. Technology is double-edged and that comes down to the question of who is in control and for what purpose.

Perhaps picking up from Alan’s more political appreciation of the Luddites, many of the contributions from the floor seemed to focus on the relevance of the Luddites for today’s politics, rather than directly engaging with the arguments presented by all three speakers. This had the unintended affect of deterring some people who had come to learn more about who the Luddites were, losing the value of having Katrina and Malcolm to answer questions and comments. Katrina’s discussion of the importance of communal context is just as vital for guiding action today and Malcolm’s arguments laid bare how politically loaded is the idea of ‘heritage’, which can subtly influence the sense that people have of themselves today, as Adam commented in his introduction.

This minor cavil apart, thanks to the wide coverage of the talks, we came away with much on which to ponder and reflect. Involvement in this commemorative enterprise has given me a wholly new appreciation of the significance of Luddism that will lead me off into further investigation, both of the past and of its relevance today – hopefully others will be similarly motivated. Meanwhile perhaps this highly personal view, only one among ninety, will prompt others to comment?

Eulogy for the Luddites

A Shame on the City of York

From 2 January to 16 January 1813 at York Castle, there took place a most shameful episode in the history of the City of York since the massacre of the Jews in Clifford’s Tower. It was one of a whole series of mass executions that took place in York up to this time.
In all, 64 men, alleged to be Luddites, were brought to the Castle for trial.There were two judges from London and 23 jurymen selected from the ranks of the Yorkshire landed gentry for the duration of the trial. Among them was Joseph Radcliffe, Justice of the Peace, of Milnes Bridge who had led the hunt to capture the accused men. He was effectively sitting in judgement on the evidence he himself had collected!

On Wednesday 6 January three men were convicted for the murder of William Horsfall. He was a mill-owner who had threatened to ride up to his stirrups in Luddite blood. They were allowed no right of appeal and were hung two days later on Friday 8 January 1813 on this spot.

A contemporary report describes the events:
“The Execution of these unhappy men took place on Friday, at nine o’clock, at the usual place behind the Castle, at York. Every precaution had been taken to render every idea of a rescue impracticable. Two troops of cavalry were drawn up at the front of the drop, and the avenues to the castle were guarded by infantry.”

“Some alteration had been made in the drop, so that all the whole body was visible when they were suspended; in former executions only the feet and head had been seen by the spectators. They were executed in their irons. They appeared slightly convulsed for a few moments.”

“The number of people assembled, was much greater than is usual in this city, on these melancholy occasions, but not the slightest indication of tumult prevailed, and the greatest silence reigned during the whole of this solemn and painful scene.”

“The bodies were taken to the County Hospital at York, for dissection, and a strong military guard was placed there several nights, to prevent any attempts to rescue the bodies.”

LET US REMEMBER:
George Mellor, aged 22, Cloth-dresser from Longroyd Bridge
Thomas Smith, aged 22, Cloth-dresser from Huddersfield
William Thorpe, aged 23, Cloth-dresser from Huddersfield

Fifteen more were condemned to death for an attack on Cartwright’s Mill at Rawfolds on 11 April 1812 and for various acts of robbery while gathering arms and ammunition from houses in the locality. One of these was commuted to transportation for life. Five more, all radicals and republicans, were transported for seven years for administering oaths – in other words for holding illegal political meetings.
On Saturday 16 January 1813, the fourteen men remaining to be executed were hung in two batches. That was 200 years ago on this very spot. Imagine a huge scaffold with seven ropes ready dangling. The area was surrounded by mounted dragoons and infantrymen.

A contemporary account tells the story:
“On the morning before the execution, the eldest daughter of [William] Hartley obtained permission to visit her wretched parent, when a scene took place which we will not attempt to describe. The heart-broken father wished to have been spared the anguish of this parting interview, but the importunate intreaties of his child at last prevailed, and they met to take a long farewell, never again to be repeated in this world.”

The first batch of seven men were brought out at 11.30 am. “The executioner then proceeded to the discharge of his duty, and the falling of the platform soon after, forced an involuntary shriek from the vast concourse of spectators assembled to witness this tremendous sacrifice to the injured laws of the country”

LET US REMEMBER:
Thomas Brook, aged 32, Cloth-dresser from Lockwood, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill
Joseph Crowther, aged 31, Cotton spinner from Sowerby, for robbery
Jonathan Dean, aged 28, Cloth-dresser from Huddersfield, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill
Nathan Hoyle, aged 45, Weaver from Skircoat, for burglaries
John Ogden, aged 23, Cloth-dresser from Huddersfield, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill
John Swallow, aged 37, Coal-miner from Briestwhistle, for burglaries
John Walker, aged 31, Cloth-dresser from Longroyd Bridge, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill

Their bodies were left to hang for more than an hour before they were cut down, to make way for a repeat performance of this grizzly act of judicial mass murder.

At 1.30 pm, seven more men made their dignified way to the scaffold, as their comrades before, intoning the Methodist hymn ‘Behold the Saviour of Mankind’ to bolster their courage. The bodies were left hanging for over an hour before they too were cut down.

LET US REMEMBER:
John Batley, aged 31, Clothier from Thornhill, for stealing sundry goods
Joseph Fisher, aged 33, Coal-miner from Thornhill, for stealing sundry goods
William Hartley, aged 41, Tailor from Warley, for stealing sundry items
James Haigh, aged 28, Cloth-dresser from Dalton, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill
James Hey, aged 25, Woollen-spinner from Skircoat, for robbery
Job Hey, aged 40, Waterman from Greetland, for burglaries
John Hill, aged 36, Cotton-spinner from Greetland, for burglaries

After these terrible events, the bodies of the fourteen men were released to their families and friends. A long and sad procession formed, with the mourners, as today, wearing white crepe armbands. They began the long, slow walk back to the West Riding to bury their men, back in their home communities.

LET US ALSO REMEMBER:
John Booth of Huddersfield and Samuel Hartley of Halifax, who died from wounds received at the attack on Cartwright’s Mill without giving away any information about their comrades.

John Baines senior, John Baines junior, William Blakeborough, George Duckworth, and Charles Milnes, transported for seven years for swearing illegal oaths – and John Lumb, transported for life for burglary.

And the 34 men who were discharged without trial, on licence, because the judges felt they had shed enough blood and hung enough people to send a message of fear into the heart of the West Riding.
[Minute’s silence]
[Three Cheers for the Luddites!]
[Thanks to everyone who came and everyone who has helped out.]

[This is the full text of the eulogy read by Martin Bashforth at the memorial event at York Castle on 19 January 2013]

What is publicly commemorated in York? (And what isn’t?)

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In preparation for York: Luddites 2013 on 19th January we’re doing a little audit of what people, places, events, happenings and activities are publicly commemorated in York – as a way of drawing attention to what isn’t.

As we learned on Paul Furness’ A Walk through Radical York, what is left out of York’s public history includes where Percy Shelley lived (the Orange Shop on Coney Street), where the suffragettes met (on the top floor of the building next to the Blue Fly cafe) and where the York Chartists drank (down Fossgate) – as well as where the Luddites were executed 200 years ago this coming January.

If you’re out and about in York of the next few weeks and spot any plaques or memorials, then post the images here or on our facebook page. Be good to be sure what York does commemorated so we can begin the make the case for some alternative additions to the civic display of our history and heritage.