Wiltshire’s Industrial History

by Rhian Jones, from Morning Star (first published December 2011)


Wiltshire Industrial History In times of heightened class struggle, increasing knowledge and consciousness of how our predecessors faced similar situations is imperative and this record of the radical local history of Wiltshire is therefore especially welcome.


Produced by the county’s Trades Council and based on a series of talks given at a local history day school, the book contains five pieces of largely forgotten or unexplored history which lift the lid on Wiltshire’s militant past.

They cover the 19th and 20th centuries, ranging from academic explorations by Professor Adrian Randall on the machine-breaking “Wiltshire outrages” of 1802, and by Steve Poole on the volatile relationship between the county’s rural labourers and the Chartist movement.

Derique Montaut gives a first-hand account of trade union activism in ’60s and ’70s Swindon and there are contributions by Nigel Costley on Wiltshire’s part in the Captain Swing rebellion of agricultural workers and Dave Chapple on Phyllis and Idris Rose, the husband-and-wife team of Communist local councillors in 1960s Trowbridge.

This is history presented in an accessible and engaging style, aimed at a wide general audience rather than an exclusively academic one.

Accordingly, it takes an expansive view of what counts as working-class history and focuses less on debates on “rough” versus “respectable” popular movements in favour of presenting a compelling narrative of the responses of ordinary people to social and political deprivation and oppression.

The narrative also makes room for the buried gems of historical incident, like the Trowbridge chemist imprisoned in 1839 for displaying bullets in his shop window bearing the label “pills for the Tories.”

A commendable blueprint for future collections of local history, the recording of these working-class episodes adds to the sterling work of industrial and social historians in rescuing our radical forerunners, in EP Thompson’s phrase, “from the enormous condescension of posterity.”

Copies can be purchased by sending a cheque for £8.50 per copy (inclusive of postage) to Rosie McGregor, White Horse (Wilts) TUC, 24 Bearfield Buildings, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 1RP.

OR BUY IT ONLINE AT http://whitehorsetuc.org/

Left Bookshops

Dave Cope, who runs the second hand book company, Left on the Shelf, and Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Publications have been collecting information on the history of radical bookselling, trying to track down the dates and names of shops from the past, together with references to radical bookshops in fiction and non-fiction.

They start from the Chartist era but have most information on the time when Communist Party shops were strongest, and from the 70s-90s when libertarian shops were common. At times the number of radical bookshops trading was well over 100. Can any SU readers help them fill in the gaps? The full listings are on http://www.leftontheshelfbooks.co.uk/

They are particularly short of photographs of the old shops, and would welcome any assistance.

(Schnews has their own list of current radical book shops here, though they have a rather different definition of radical from me! A more up to date list of radical book-sellers is here)


Keywords: anarchists, booksellers, bookshops, editors, libertarian socialists, newspapers, pacifism, pacifists, political activists, political pamphlets, printers, printing, publishers, publishing, Royal College of Science and Technology, socialism, socialists, Strickland Press, University of Strathclyde, Word

News from Nowhere Bookshop Liverpool

October Books - view from Portswood Road

Wiltshire History Day

I am speaking on BBC Wiltshire about this at about 10:00 am tomorrow morning, and the BBC will then be running some audio clips about Thomas Heliker and on the Swing riots. (incidently, in the BBC’s recent history of the world in 100 objects, one of them was Thomas Heliker’s letter)


This should be a first class event. Wiltshire has a rich working class history as the wool mill towns were some of the earliest concentrations of wage labourers in the world, and in a very real sense working class politics was born here, as well as other places, with the machine breaking outrages of 1802, and the hanging of Thomas Heliker.

Wiltshire was the one of the main epicentres of physical force Chartism, with around 8000 men drilling with pikes and guns on the commons between Trowbridge and Bradford. The pharmacist in Trowbridge displayed bullets in his shop window with the banner: “pills for the Tories”.

Of interest to the evolution of modern political history will be the chance to hear Derique Montaut, talking about the growth of militancy and the Marxist left in Swindon. Derique was the senior TGWU convenor in Pressed Steel, and a member of the Socialist Labour League / Workers Revolutionary Party, at a  time when Swindon provided the main industrial base of British Trotsykism. This was the result of a number of former Communist militants in the railworks joining Gerry Healy’s group following the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

Trowbridge also had what we think is the unique distinction of having a husband and wife team of two Communist town councillors, during the 1960s and 1970s.