Blessèd are the Meek : A Novel
The Plug Riots of the 1840s: violent and significant steps on working people’s long road towards justice and equality.
Like many mill towns, the small settlement of Hyde, seven miles to the east of Manchester, grew rapidly in the first half of the nineteenth century. Cotton mills and coal fields defined it and thousands moved in from the surrounding countryside to live and work there.
Conditions for the spinners, winders, weavers and the rest were poor, and in years of depression were worse than miserable. Protests for fair pay and for political representation of the new working class were common and yet harshly rebuffed by the powerful.
One man who lived through these times was James Shore: a machine mender, a Chartist, a rioter and a convict. He was also a son, a husband and a father, and his story amounts to far more than that of a lengthy prison sentence.
He was a man who sacrificed his freedom for the prize of equality, who could glimpse its light in the distance, but who was born too early to bask in its glow.
Blessèd are the Meek is a story based on historical truth.
WORKING PEOPLE'S FIGHT FOR THE VOTE
- AND THE FASCINATING STORY OF A REAL MILL WORKER'S LIFE"
Several years ago, when my younger daughter was a sixth-form student researching a history essay on Chartism, I took her to see the memorial to the Hyde Chartists outside the town hall in my home town. I had not paid it much attention until that day and together we read with interest the panels and plaques concerning the struggles of the working classes for the right to vote. Most intriguing of all was the list of local men convicted for their part in the Plug Riots in the town in August 1848, and the appearance in that list of eighteen of the name of James Shore: a machine worker aged 28 at the time who shared his family name with us. Also notable was that, of all those imprisoned, he was given the longest and harshest sentence: two years with hard labour.
It has taken some time, therefore, and three novels later, for me to revisit the curiosity kindled by the memorial. The idea of writing historical fiction was daunting for a start. All of my writing to this point had been contemporary and so setting a story in the middle of the nineteenth century was quite a departure. I was apprehensive about the amount of research required to do justice to the period and, of course, to the man whose life I was keen to write about.
Nevertheless I was determined to make a stab at it and was enormously helped by members of the Tameside Local History Forum, the Local Studies Centre at Ashton Library and by a large array of books, pamphlets, maps, newspaper articles and so on. I acknowledge one and all in my Author’s Notes at the back of the published book.
Historical records can only tell the factual bare bones of a story, however, and along with a degree of educated guesswork I felt it necessary to flesh out the tale with imagination. The lives of so-called “ordinary people” are rarely well-documented and this was especially so 170 years ago. In a way the blanks are a bonus, allowing a sensitive writer space to let the characters and the situations they may find themselves in develop naturally. I make no excuses for creating scenes which are entirely fictitious as I wrote them in good faith: they enhance James’ story by giving it an honest context and depth. All members of James’ family were real people as were others involved in the political turmoil; meanwhile other characters, for example friends, mill workers and so on appear as a result of my imagination. Blessèd are the Meek is therefore a novel, a work of fiction, yet one largely based on factual evidence and set amongst real events in real places in and around the mills of Hyde.
Incidentally, after much research a conclusion was reached that, in spite of sharing a family name and a home town, James and I are not directly related down the generations! Nevertheless, after living with him at my shoulder for so many months, I feel like I know him almost as well as any member of my family.
I completed the novel in the summer of 2018 and had it published in the early weeks of 2019, in good time to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre.
Read an extract from the book, the novel’s prologue, by clicking the link below: