Registered Charity Number 1166940
These letters are not all genuine and they are not all written by the same person. They are however, based on fact and events that actually happened.
They give you an insight into how the lower orders felt at the time.
I wor wi’men as set out on the Pentrich Rising in 1817. Never mind what me name is, it dun’t matter. I managed to run off when t’Hussars1 arrived and I never said another word about it. I wos 22 and me life affront of me. I’ll tell thee about it if you dunna say where you got it from.
I’ve bin blessed with a good memory and I can take meself back to the first time I heard Tom Bacon talking about politics. It was in May 1815, soldiers were still fightin’ t’Frenchies2 and times were tough. Of course it took days, and sometimes weeks, to get to know what were happening around. That were a problem and it were a problem later on……..
Pentrich May 1815
It’s end a’June now and we’ve just heard that Duke o’Wellington has beat Napoleon Bonaparte and brought t‘war to an end. Its good news but some of men in t’village are not so sure about that. Them soldiers who are still alive and not cut up will be back hom looking for wok and, as Owd Tom says, there ain’t any to be found around here – mebbe they’ll get to t’mills at Belper and Cromford or go down a pit. There’s some work for children and women but not so much for men.
Mind you, they might not get back, there’s allis a war to faight somewhere. I dunna think I’d like to be a soldier. Why can’t Kings and lords sort out their differences like working men do; we don’t involve them, why do they involve us? …………
Pentrich June 1815
Yo might like to know that there were a bit of a c’fuffle at the White Horse t’other naight when some men from Butterley Works come in. They’d bin playing football on top field and were covered in mud. They ordered a load’a ale and when Nancy pulled their pints they tried to pay in Butterley Tokens. Well, she refused their tokens and started to grab hold of the ale pots.
Well, if it hadn’t bin for John Onions, he was a local who woked at Butterley, there’d a bin trouble, mark my words. Anyway he stepped in and explained to Nancy that Butterley Company had started t’pay their men in tokens and notes which they could exchange for stuff at t’company shops………..
Pentrich July 1815
It were funny how Thomas Bacon seemed to tell me things, things he probably shouldn’t have. I were a good listener, in fact I were fascinated by his stories. I know as some o’older men couldn’t be doing wi ‘im. He weren’t like anybody else I knew. He allus said to me, “Now lad, don’t say owt, but . . .” and then he start one of his stories. Mind you I never did tell anybody – that’s until I started to write these notes.
I remember as one night when me and Tom Bacon were supping a pint in t’White Horse. I’d bin paid for t’smithy’s building work and even asked me dad to come for a pint but he were too miserable to move.“Yo shouldn’t be geeing your hard earned money to Ma Weightman, I thought I’d taught thee more sense!” Ma said, “Leave ‘im dad, t’lads been worked full time for days, gee it a rest.” Dad grunted and chewed on his clay pipe – I’m not sure he ever had owt in it. ………..
Pentrich August 1815
Workin’ on them new cottages for t’Dukes agent kept me busy but it wont last for ever. Since me dad day’d I’ve got to keep family going. At 20 I should sowing me wild oats not workin’ every hour that God sends. Mind you I’m not so sure that there is a God at the moment; Way can’t even afford a headstone for me dad.
Anyhow, I had a weird meeting yesterday, I’ll tell thee abowt it. As I were on me way hom from wok a tall, well-dressed man came up to me side. I dunna know his name but he were Colonel Halton’s clerk; Halton’s the local magistrate. I’ve seen ‘im a time or two but never spoke to ‘im. He’s not the sort a chap to talk to likes a’me. ………..
Pentrich September 1815
It’s bin a funny old month so far, I’ve bin busy finishing the estate cottages; I got a pound for finishing a week early!
I had a drink wi’ Henry at T’White Horse t’other naight, he was wantin’ to talk about leaving Pentrich to go to Derby or Nottingham. Henry’s a couple years older than me and he lives wi’ his parents in t’village– his dad is a framework knitter. He’s the eldest and named after his dad. Henry has bin a good pal o’mine since we were kids and kickin’ about t’village. He told me they were struggling to make ends meet and to pay t’rent every month. He were allus a good friend so I wanted to know what made ‘im think this way. ………..
Pentrich October 1815
It’s bin a rough back end, it never stopped raining. It laid me off from building a couple of days for t’last week or so. If I don’t work I don’t get paid. Mind you It’s not as bad as some o’farmers they’ve not sifted owt for weeks now.
In fact there’s bin some strange happenings wi t’weather and nobody knows what’s happening. There’s bin some odd coloured lights around sunset and t’sky sometimes looked orange or red low down over t’hills. Bloody weird if you ask me. I’ve never seen owt like it. ………..
Pentrich November 1815
Since I started these notes around May or June time, it’s bin a strange year. We’ve lost me dad, he were a good man. We’ve beat Boney, and I’ll tell thee more about him in a bit, and we’ve had some funny weather. All in all it’s a raight dog’s breakfast, as me dad allus used to say.
To mek things wos people are poorer than they were years ago. Some old folks tell that prices had gone up and wages, ‘specially frameworkers, are not as good as they used to be, in fact some are meking’ less than half what they made ten years back. One of t’problems is that some bagmen are tekin’ the wok to factories and bringin’ less to t’framework knitters who work at hom. I’ve never bin to a factory but I’m told that some at Cromford and Belper have more women and kids than men workin’ there. ………..
Pentrich December 1815
It had bin fost Christmas I can remember wi’out me dad. Although he wor a miserable bugger he wor allus there and he sometimes made a few dry remarks that made us laugh. Mam said a prayer for ‘im.
I managed to get a good size chicken for patchin’ up one o’our neighbour’s roof so we had a good feast. Some kids went about carol singing and it wor allus an excuse for drinking by t’men in village. There wer a football match between some from t’Dog Inn and White Horse. It were so sludgy that I dunna thick anyone kicked a goal – it were another excuse for a few beers.
Nanny Weightman had brewed a special Christmas Ale and it were as strong as you like. I dunna think many o’wives were very pleased it didna half cause a few thick heads in t’morning. ………..
Pentrich January 1816
I were tekin’ a drink at t’Peacock when I found a newspaper some traveller had left. A piece by Reverend Thomas Robbins caught me eye. It said that, ‘as he had done since 1796, Robbins recorded in his diary the weather and, if not the weather, his activities that revealed the weather. In the first days of March 1816, Robbins planted peas. A week later he noted that the day was “quite warm.” Three days later, on March 12, he noted that it was “cold and wet.” It snowed, and two days later the ground was “considerably frozen.” He would not attempt to replant peas until the end of April.’ .………..
Pentrich March 1816
It’s a year since I started to scribble these notes and hide ‘em away. I only hope some bugger finds ‘em and reads ‘em before t’old King dies. I only did it to prove that we’re not all stupid, some on us can write.
Well, I sometimes wonder what’s up wi t’country, I were in t’pub t’other day talkin’ to a man who wer travellin’ and sellin’ bricks. He were tellin’ me about riots in Nottingham and Loughborough over t’price of food. I found a copy of local newspaper and there were bits and pieces about disturbances in Manchester and even some Luddites smashing machines. I thought that were all over when they made it a hangin’ matter. Mind you, I know that one or two around here are thinkin’ causing trouble and, to mek things worse, Tom Bacon spends a lota time winding em up. .………..
Pentrich April 1816
I allus said that I’d never work down t’pit and after what I saw t’other day, I’ll stick by that as rule for messen. One of t’bosses asked me to build a brick shed round top of a shaft at Pentrich Pit. They’d got plenty a’bricks so I walked down from t’village wi me tools and some stuff in me little cart. It were raining, as usual, but that didna matter, it’s nice to get a bit of steady work for a few days.
They wanted a tall brick building to cover some o’windin’ apparatus. They’d managed to get some lime, sand and clay. I did what me father had taught me and I set a fire to burn some o’lime with clay……..
Pentrich May 1816
Since I started these notes I’ve been made to think more than I ever have before. I’ve never bin to school, except Church reading classes, but I do turn things o’er in me mind an I talks to Owd Tom about things.
Last week, t’Dukes agent visited Pentrich and probably most o’villages hereabouts. I were laying some bricks on a wall on t’main road where a drover’s cart had knocked it down trying to get through t’mud.
There were two or three men who’d left their two-horse carriage by t’side of the Dog Inn. It were a dry day, for a change, and these men were walking through t’village. They stopped opposite where I were working, I’d just ignored ‘em and kept on wi my job.…..
Pentrich June 1816
Me mam has took a turn for t’worse and I’m not surprised we all this rain and cold weather – June were really awful, it made you feel down.
She took to her bed in t’middle o’day often and looks really grey around her face. T’skin on her arms were hangin’ loose. I couldna ger her to eat at all.
I dunna know who asked for her but Mrs Turner came to see her. Old Mrs Turner is big woman wi loads a’kids who lives in a tidy cottage in between Swanwick and Pentrich, as long as I can remember she’wer allus there. She brought a basket full o’herbs and flowers and set about chopping them up in a wooden bowl. She gev me a .…..
Pentrich July 1816
I nearly threw all me notes away, it’s tekken a few days afore I decided to pick up me pen and ink. Me head’s bin spinnin’ but to be ‘onest, I had this feelin’ she were going and soon. I aint got round to any decisions yet.
I dunna think me mam would want me to change much, though she never knew about me notes.
Though I miss me dad, it’s different this time, mam dying cuts me from me upbringing if tha knows wa I mean.
Time moved fast, everybody came round, including t’vicar and we had a funeral and buried mam in less than a week. Most o’village came to t’funeral and we had a few beers in t’White Horse; Nancy put some bread and meat on. Some folks were more worried about who were goin’ to look after their kids now me mam’s gone. .…..
Pentrich August 1816
Livin’ in a village means yo know everybody and their ups and downs, including death of babies and old’ens, although me mam weren’t that old. Yo just have to ger on wi it.
Well, to start off, the wos thing that came about this month were t’Game Laws. Tom had bin to a meeting and then he told a crowd in t’White Horse what it were about.
Tom said that the Game Laws were class based legislation forbidding the rural poor from taking pheasant, partridge, hares and rabbits from the lands of the aristocracy. These laws banned hunting of pheasant, partridge, hares and rabbits except by landowners or their mates. It had been a way for poor folks to eat sommat different every now and again. The sentence for poaching, and that meant even having a net at night, were transportation for 7 years. This were another blow after t’Corn Laws put prices up. .…..
Pentrich September 1816
Yo get t’feelin’ that sommat’s bubblin’ up. Everybody’s talkin’ about being out a’work, short a’food and pissed off wi t’weather. It’s not stopped rainin’ all year and the tracks and fields are like bogs. I canna remember owt like it and nor can any o‘t’others. It sempt to be weird that just as folks were feelin’ t’pinch, t’weather made things wos.
Somebody left a newspaper in t’White Horse one naight and I found a bit about more Luddite trouble – we thought it had stopped after they’d hanged a few.
It said, “There was a revival of violence and machine breaking following a bad harvest and a downturn in trade. On 28 June the Luddites attacked Heathcote and Boden's mill in Loughborough, smashing 53 frames at a cost of £6,000. Troops were used to end the riots and for their crimes, six men were executed and another three were transported” .…..
Pentrich October 1816
A bantle o’us were in t’White Horse pub at start of t’month, Tom brought a Nottingham newspaper he’s picked up on one of his travels. He told us that Nottingham magistrates were going to Watch and Ward again as they expected some trouble from Luddites, republicans or food rioters in t’city. He’d met with a man called Gravenor Henson who were secretary of t’Framework Knitters Union. Tom said he were a smart fella and someone who cared for t’poor workers.
Most o’others sempt to know what he were on about but I asked Tom what Watch and Ward was has I’d never heard of it. .…..
Pentrich November 1816
There’s lots to talk about around Christmas time; a couple of days off wok and extra food and drink, especially drink. But, I’ve got to leave all that and tell thee about what’s bin happenin’ in London. Yo might remember I told thee last month that things were heatin’ up – well this they ha done and wi a bang.
Owd Tom Bacon asked me to go wi ‘im on a trip to Nottingham, he’d managed to ger a ride on a cart wi a man from Swanwick who teks cloth every couple o’weeks. It weren’t half a rough ride along t’sludgy turnpike. .…..
Pentrich December 1816
Yo couldna ger away from t’idea that things were gerrin’ more serious. It all affected folks in different ways. One or two were tryin’ to calm us down when t’others were gerrin’ excited. Yo gorra feelin’ that if some bugger blew a trumpet most o’men in t’village woulda followed em. Anyroad that’s war I think.
I adna seen Owd Tom for a few days until one night in t’White Horse. It wer obvious from t’start that he were fulla ‘is sen and had summat to tell us. I could tell that Tom were waiting until he ‘ad a big enough crowd – he kept lookin’ at t’door to see who were comin’ in.
Pentrich February 1817
Around t’middle of March I went with Tom Bacon t’Peacock Inn at Oakerthorpe. Tom had to meet a man and he asked me to go along wi ‘im for company. I know he often went there to meet men who were travelling along t’turnpike from Manchester or Sheffield to Derby and, even one or two, on to London. I’ve bin to Derby but not London – I can’t see messen ever going.
Anyroad the bloke we met, I never knew his name, told us what had bin ‘appening in t’north. We sat in t’corner o’snug and Owd Tom .…..
Pentrich March 1817
Whilst we’re waiting for spring, and its not stopped raining yet, yo get t’feelin’ that some things are t’same and some are changin’. Tom’s still talkin’ about his trip to London in January and meeting all t’delegates from Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and all over. If he’s not spending his naights cutch-mudgin’ with old Ludlam and a few others, chadgin’ money for his trips then he’s nowhere to be seen. He gets abowt for an old man.
Frame knitters are moaning about lack of good trade and .…..
Pentrich April 1817
I were never part of th’inner circle in t’Hamden Club so I didna allus get to know what were bubblin’, but I could tell that things were hottin’ up by t’middle o’May when I set abowt writing me notes. There was Hampden Club meetings at White ‘orse most weeks and Owd Tom started meetings in a barn in South Wingfield with t’Ludlam’s, Walters and one or two more. Yo cudna help but notice one or two strangers coming into t’village and, often as not, being met wi Tom. It were clear that they planned sommat serious and it some ow got owt they were going to march on London. .…..
Pentrich May 1817
Well, I dunna know where to start this month and that’s a fact, I’m stopping with me uncle Isaac at ‘eanor. I dunna know if I mentioned ‘im afore, he’s me old dad’s brother. He lives in a cottage between ‘eanor and Tagg ‘ill and he does framework knitting like many round ‘ere. I never saw much of ‘im for years but I were desperate, I didna know where to go.
It all ‘appened just ‘ower a week ago. Yo know they’ve bin planning’ a march for some time, well it were finally all go. I got to know abowt it in early June and most o’lads my age were expected to go, yo .…..
Pentrich June 1817
I could tell from me uncle’s manner that it was time I’d better be gerring’ back hom. I’d bin ‘ere for a couple of weeks and kept me ‘ead down. I could see as he were as poor as frame knitters back hom and even just one more mouth meks a difference in t’costa food.
I did walk back to Ripley one day and found abit abowt what ‘appened after I left t’march. There were some soldiers and special constables around Ripley so I didna stay long. I ‘ad a jar at t’Cock Inn wi an old mate and they wer all on abowt it. Yo can imagine there were different tales. .…..
Pentrich July 1817
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