A PUPIL HONOURS A TEACHER
At the funeral of a former colleague I met an ex-pupil who told me why he had taken a day off work to pay his last respects. Dyslexia was not understood very well 40 years ago and, amazingly, the pupil managed to conceal his problem until he was 16 years old when the teacher spotted he had misspelt his name at the top of an examination paper. “Stay behind, I want a word!” He then helped the pupil with special tuition in his own time. A modest man, he also requested no eulogy which resulted in what the speaker cunningly described as a tribute instead, adding “What younger brother ever obeyed his older brother’s instructions?” We all heartily agreed!
The uprising was scheduled to start at 10 o’clock on the evening of 9th June 1817 and the men duly gathered at Hunts Barn in South Wingfield. Their numbers vary from 50 to near 300 in witness statements from the time. They were armed with an array of unconvincing weapons: a few guns but mainly scythes, pitchforks and rudimentary homemade pikes.
Things did not go well from the beginning. Oliver’s tipoff to the authorities was aided by rather persistent rain. The anticipated rush to join those marching south towards Nottingham did not materialise.
Brandreth and his men began calling at isolated farms, knocking on doors and exhorting followers to join them but with little success. Brandreth became involved in an argument at the home of Widow Hepworth who was not keen on supporting his venture. A firearm was discharged which resulted in the accidental death of her servant, Richard Walters.
Undeterred, the scattered groups reformed at Pentrich Lane End and marched on their first major objective. However, Butterley Ironworks did not throw open its doors and provide support. Instead, the “revolutionaries” were forced to stand outside in the rain and experience resistance and rejection.
There was no alternative but to carry on. Wet and losing momentum, they stopped off at three public houses — promising the landlords that they would receive payment in full after Lord Liverpool’s government had been overthrown.
When the bedraggled force encountered a detachment of the King’s Hussars resolve evaporated. They broke ranks and made their escape in small groups. The “revolution” was over — the unfortunate Richard Walters being the only casualty.
The tinderbox nature of British politics at the time guaranteed the fate of the ringleaders. A show trial followed and Brandreth, Ludlam and Turner were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This was the last time that the ultimate punishment in England was handed out. In the event clemency was shown and they were merely hanged and beheaded. Brandreth famously enquired about the role of “Oliver the Spy” prior to his death but his request for further information fell upon deaf ears.
Punishment did not end with the deaths of the three ringleaders. Transportation to Australia was the fate of 14 men from Pentrich, South Wingfield, Alfreton and Heanor. Five men from Pentrich and one from South Wingfield were given prison sentences.
The village of Pentrich was also punished. The houses of the men who had taken part were razed to the ground by the Duke of Devonshire, the local landlord, leaving noticeable spaces along the main road today. Dependants were evicted and forced to live in poverty. The White Horse Inn, the scene of Brandreth’s final planning meeting, was demolished.
England did experience other worrying events. In particular, in 1819 the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester was another example of tension, suspicion and free speech making for a heady cocktail.
Pentrich was to benefit from the endowment of a new school in the aftermath of “England’s Last Revolution”. It was provided by the Duke of Devonshire and built on the site of the former home of Thomas Bacon, which was one of those demolished. Pentrich had paid a high price for its involvement — but stability had returned.
The exterior of Butterley Ironworks today and a garden where the White Horse Inn once stood.
Two of the main protagonists: William Oliver and Jeremiah Brandreth.