It is the second decade of the Nineteenth Century in early Industrial Revolution Nottingham. The emerging hosiery industry is the only means of livelihood for hundreds of refugees from the surrounding agricultural villages who have fled to the town in search of a less hazardous way of life. 

They are herded into hastily-built constructed slums, and grudgingly paid subsistence wages for a skilled product which is funding several private fortunes among the more wealthy entrepreneurs. 

The terms if international trade, blighted by the Napoleonic Wars, render the hosiery product hard to sell in Europe, while at the same time forcing the domestic food prices ever upward. Starvation and disease are rife in the festering courtyards of the resentful workers, who are desperate for a champion to their cause. 

Into the tinderbox someone throws a lighted fuse called Ned Lud… 

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ISBN:   978-1-921919-77-0
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 328
Genre: Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: David Goodman
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2013
Language: English

Author Biography


David Goodman is the nom-de-plume of David Field, a Nottingham-born naturalised Australian whose long career so far has been as a practising and academic lawyer.  

This is his first novel, combining his lifelong love of history with his penchant for storytelling. 

David is married, with two sons and two grandchildren.  

He lives in the Tweed Valley, in northern New South Wales, Australia




The term “Luddite” has acquired a popular meaning not justified by history. Ask most people whom they believe the Luddites to have been, and their response will be something along the lines of ‘a bunch of violent Lefties from somewhere in the north of England who opposed technical progress, and smashed new machines which were throwing them out of work’.

Wrong on every count except the use of violence. But it was a violence born of desperation which drove them to smash, not new machines which threatened their livelihoods, but the very machines on which they had been earning their livings for at least a generation. That desperation arose, not from any technical threat, but from hunger, disease, and wretched living conditions, in the face of the seeming indifference of those whose apparent prosperity they were feeding. But the very entrepreneurs whose working capital went under the hammer, axe and tinder box almost nightly for two turbulent years were themselves victims of the same economic downturn, and were financially powerless to relieve the sufferings of their workers.

I have set out to depict what little is known of the actual events from both sides of the economic divide, through the eyes of two notional families whose mutual regard and respect for each other brings them nothing but tragedy. The main characters are obviously fictional, but the dates are accurate, and most of the background is historically sound. There really was a Town Clerk called George Coldham, and the Home Secretary of the time really was a man named Richard Ryder. The maiden speech of Lord Byron during the House of Lords debate on the Framework Bill is reproduced word for word.

There also really was a man named Gravener Henson, and one theory puts him very close to events. We shall never know for certain, because the real Luddites kept their identities as well hidden from the modern historian as they did from the authorities at the time. Whether or not one can conclude that they came from ‘somewhere up north’ depends upon where one is standing. They came from Nottingham, an English Midlands town famous mainly for Robin Hood and pretty girls. Also for its lace industry, made pre-eminent in the world by the men and women on whose behalf this story is told, in an attempt to set the record straight.

 David Goodman


“The great body of the present Mischief arises from the endeavours of the labouring classes by terror to compel their Employers to increase the price of their Labour and otherwise conduct the Manufactory in a manner more agreeable to the Interests or prejudice of the Artizan and this System must be held down by force before we can expect the restoration of Public Tranquillity.” 


Extract from a letter from the Town Clerk of Nottingham to the Home Office

dated December 6, 1811



 1. A laying to rest - PART SAMPLE


A rat foraged hopefully through a mound of rotting garbage, nose twitching, its writhing tail flicking a channel through the slime. Tommy Slack’s boot missed it by half an inch, and it shot for the sanctuary of the open drain which ran through the centre of the greasy, unpaved, inner courtyard. Tommy grinned, and completed the short journey from the communal corner privy to the single low door of Number 7.

The fog which had hung since daybreak over the River Leen, fully a hundred feet below the huddled slums which perched on Drury Hill, had since crept cautiously up Narrow Marsh, searching out the overcrowded courts and narrow alleyways. By two o’clock it had already drifted into Tanners Yard, and now – a few minutes short of three – was snaking triumphantly around the roofs of the workmen’s dwellings. These were only a generation old, but their unscrupulous developers appeared to have opted for instant slums, laid out in cramped back-to-back rows around the courtyard.

It was October 22nd, 1809, and Old Joe Slack was to be buried.

Tommy lifted the latch and rejoined the company. Many had gathered to pay their last respects to Old Joe, and the cramped all-purpose room was rank with the steam of cold damp clothing on marginally warmer bodies. In the upper room lay Old Joe himself, on a borrowed trestle, in a basic coffin donated by the church. A modest enough arrangement in itself, but no-one in the Yard could recall a neighbour going off in a coffin. Nor would he have done, in all probability, had the entire family, Joe included, not been regular worshippers at that same church.

From time to time, a mourner would mount the rickety stairs to the upper room, and gaze down wistfully at their former neighbour. Grizzled, shrunken, and even greyer in death than he had been in life, Joe Slack had lived to be 62, a feat of endurance for someone who had worked a stocking frame for nigh on thirty years.

It was a meet time for reflection, and Nathan Slack was ever one for that. He’d been just short of his thirteenth birthday when his father had led the entire family off the fields of Edwalton into the town parish of St Mary’s, newly swollen by the pre-war expansion of the Nottingham hosiery trade. The parish had been overcrowded even then, and Nathan’s mother had been the first to succumb to the unhealthy fog which rose almost daily from the river, almost as if to shroud the squalor above. At the age of thirty-six, she’d left a husband and three children – a common enough loss, and Old Joe had battled on.

In Nathan, Joe had raised a son in his own image, a strong and willing worker who’d helped to support the family through long hours at the frame. At the age of fourteen, Nathan’s sister Nellie had died of the fever, and at seventeen, his younger sister Rose had perished under the wheels of a coach and pair on Short Hill. Joe and Nathan had lived alone until Lily came along.

It was Lily who broke the spell, a firm hand on Nathan’s arm.

‘It’s near time – best see to the carryin’ party.’

Nathan smiled proudly as he watched her bustle back into the company; even at his own father’s funeral, she was taking charge. They’d managed well enough these past sixteen years, and he wouldn’t have wanted her any other way.

The flickering glow from the oil lamp suspended by a hook from the ceiling – essential all day during the winter months – picked out the silver in her auburn hair, tied back, as ever, in a neat bunch at the nape of her neck. She was only of average height for a woman of those times, but even so, over the years, the low ceiling had trained her to an instinctive stoop. Her once-slender figure had swollen with rough housework and childbirth, and their latest – surely their last? – showed only modestly beneath her coarse-cloth apron. Perhaps this one would survive, making it four. Those stillborn had all been boys, and Old Annie had divined a girl this time, not that Lily believed in ‘all that tomfoolery’.

Nathan was drawn back again to the business in hand as Tommy sidled alongside him.

‘There’s still time to change it, Da – Will’s complainin’ as ’is back’s bad.’

Nathan sighed with irritation.

‘Yer not goin’ in the carryin’ party, and there’s an end on it. Yer place as eldest boy is with yer Mam and me, up the front. There’s plenty more can carry the coffin.’

‘But Da…’

‘I’m tellin’ yer, lad – it’s all settled. Now go an’ see after the guests, like yer Mam asked yer.’

Tommy snorted away, and Nathan reminded himself for the tenth time that it was the right decision. At fifteen, although tall for his age, Tommy was probably too young to be a bearer, and if he gave in to Tommy, he could hardly refuse his brother Matthew, and thirteen was definitely too young. It was a pity, all the same – they’d both thought the world of their grandfather.

As usual, it had been Lily who’d had the last word.

‘I’m not ’avin’ folks sayin’ as no-one else’d tek him,’ she’d announced flatly, ‘and anyroad, we must walk as a family, and our place is up the front.’

By way of compensation, Tommy had been placed in charge of the meagre supply of ale, to fortify the mourners against the dreary uphill trudge to the burial ground.

Nathan pushed through the throng to the foot of the stairs, signalling to certain of the men as he went. Once upstairs, Ben Pilgrim secured the lid with a handful of nails, then helped the other three pass the coffin down to the room below, where it was lowered reverently to the ground. The four men then paused nervously, waiting for the word.

‘Ready, then? Mind the balance as you go. You’ll be right enough, Will?’

Will Draycott grinned toothlessly.

‘Reckon that lad o’ yourn’s bin tellin’ whoppers again. Me back were a bit sore yesterday, that’s all. It’ll tek no gristle ter lift poor old Joe, anyroad.’

Relieved to have the final decision taken out of his hands, Nathan caught Lily’s eye across the room, and gave her a silent nod. Lily slipped off her apron, and took hold of a ladle from the hob-rack. As Joe’s coffin was lifted effortlessly onto willing shoulders on a whispered command from Nathan, she struck the ladle against the pot which hung over the empty hearth.

An instant silence descended, and Nathan stepped self-consciously towards the door, followed by the coffin and its four carriers. The company parted down the middle as Nathan led them out, crouching to clear the low lintel as they moved out into the Yard. The rest followed, and as the full procession formed up outside, Lily dropped the latch behind the last of them. She then came round to stand alongside Nathan at the head of the line, their two sons immediately behind them as instructed, and young Ruth holding onto Lily’s right hand. There was a moment’s hesitation, and then they moved off at what they hoped was a suitable funereal pace.

The fog now engulfed the whole of St Mary’s, swirling and twisting in unchallenged eddies wherever its whim decreed. The measured tread of the mourners rang hollowly against the crumbling archway exit from the Yard, as they passed under it and out onto Drury Hill. A carriage clattered somewhere above them, and they braced themselves against the cold dank air and the steep climb up to Weekday Cross.

They turned right at the Cross, and were in High Pavement, stepping at an easy pace for the sake of the women and children, a humble cortege of some forty common people. High on their left rose the four-storeyed mansions of the well-to-do – the manufacturers, tradesmen, frame-owners and suchlike. To their right, the High Pavement Chapel and School, the Shire Hall and the Town Gaol, perched menacingly on the edge of the steep cliff which fell sharply down to the Leen.

Beyond the narrow river, on the flat plain which gave access to the wider Trent, of which the Leen was merely a polluted tributary, lay the open meadows of the East and West Crofts, barren now, but in summer months the favoured picnic grounds of the workers of St Mary’s. A chance to fill their lungs with God’s good air, and their tiny back-to-back houses with daffodils and crocuses. Today, the Meadows lay somewhere behind a heaving grey wall, and not even the wealthy, from their servants’ attic rooms, could buy a glimpse.

The occasional passer-by scurried in and out of the fog, and Lily pressed close to Nathan, her left arm in his right, seeking his warmth and his reassuring presence. He recalled how she’d shared his arm all those years ago, as they’d left the Sion Chapel, man and wife in the sight of God. Further back still, how she’d first come into the Yard, a bundle of starved rags pursued by the Town Watch.

It had been cold then too, a wicked November night with clear skies and a cruel early frost. The hue and cry had risen on Drury Hill, and had followed her as she’d scampered for refuge into Tanners Yard, a grimy scarecrow of a girl. Nathan, then a robust young man of twenty-two still grieving for the tragic loss of his sister Rose, had been out in the courtyard, chipping the first hard ice of the year from the doorway of Number 7. Lily had raced behind him and across into the corner privy; seconds later, two burly officers of the Watch had skidded under the archway and into the Yard, each holding aloft a search lantern.

‘You! Seen a girl come in ’ere?’

Nathan disliked the Watch, and particularly Watt Griffin.

‘They come in and out all the time – why, you lost one?’

Griffin scowled at Nathan, then scanned the Yard, his lantern held as high as his short arms and legs permitted. His suspicious eyes fixed on the privy.

‘What abart in there?’

‘Have a look for yerself, but don’t blame me if Scuff Needham pulls yer ears off.’

‘Scuff’ Needham was a fearsome size, and none of the Watch had ever taken him. Griffin was not in the mood for pointless heroics, not even with Collins to assist. With a final glare at Nathan, he swaggered out of Yard, closely followed by a relieved colleague. Nathan waited silently until the privy door opened a few cautious inches.

‘They’ve gone, lass – nowt to fear.’

She’d have slipped back out of the Yard, but Nathan intercepted her and held on firmly to her right arm.

‘Not so fast, young lady. Now then, you bin stealin’ or summat?’

Proud eyes had burned into his.

‘That’ll be the day as Lily Parker steals – and I’ll thank yer to tek yer gret hairy fist off me arm!’

‘I’ll do that when I’m good and sure why yer ’ere. Da!’

Old Joe had shuffled carefully out over the icy threshold in answer to Nathan’s summons, and had surveyed the young girl with a wisdom born of experience.

‘Yer can let ’er go, Nathan – anyone can see she’s got nowhere to run to.’

‘I reckon she’s bin stealin’ or summat.’

‘An’ I reckon yer wrong. Anyroad, fust thing is to get summat warm into ’er. She’s shiverin’ fit ter bust.’

Nathan looked down at her more gently.

‘What d’yer say, lass? Like summat ter eat?’

Temptation and suspicion fought each other in both her face and words.

‘I’ll not lie with yer, if that’s what yer think.’

‘That yer’ll not lass – leastways, not smellin’ like that.’

He’d had to let go of her as she lashed back at him with an outraged fist.

It had taken many days of gentleness to allay her suspicions, and at first it was only Old Joe who could really set her at ease. Her story was by no means novel.

The oldest daughter in a family of seven born to a drunken, itinerant tinker and his timid, downtrodden wife, she’d stuck with the beatings, abuse and humiliation for sixteen years, for the sake of the mother and family she’d adored. Her mother had died the previous Christmas, and all the children but Lily (who was above the age of child charity) had been consigned to the Leicester Poorhouse. She’d followed her father under threat of further violence, and in the waning hope that love and devotion might even yet be his salvation.


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