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