As Sylvie Was Walking

This story starts in the Forest of Dean with a riot and song and ends with an account of the struggle for the human rights of the visually impaired in Australia. The folk song As Sylvie Was Walking, made famous by Pentangle in 1969, has been traced to Ann Howell who was born in October 1832 at Broadwell Lane End, Forest of Dean, where she learnt it from her uncle. The Pentangle version, which can be viewed on YouTube, is called Once I had a Sweetheart and leaves out the first three verses. The […]

Memories of 1960s Bristol

I came to Bristol from Newport in South Wales in August 1962 when I was 12 years old. I had been brought up there and my family came from the Pontypool area. I had once been to Bristol Zoo on a school trip and spent a family holiday in a small caravan at Portishead, both times coming by trail under the Severn. I had also been on a school day trip by steamer from Cardiff Docks to Weston-super-mare when I was about 10. My family moved to Bristol because he had become a Methodist minister, getting […]

Pity the Poor Buttyman

The Butty System in the Forest of Dean 1921-1938

Recent years have seen the growth of sub-contracting, piece work, self-employment, daywork, zero-hour contracts, minimum wages and the use of agencies in the never-ending attempt by capital to reduce the cost of labour. This is an account of the use of sub-contracting in the mining industry in the Forest of Dean 1922 – 1938. It examines the impacts of the system on workforce cohesion and solidarity as well as the extent to which it succeeded in increasing the rate of exploitation of the […]

Who owns Colston?

A close up of Colston's face from his statue in Bristol's centre
A silent clause When Edward Colston died in 1721 we can be fairly certain that before long his body had disintegrated into dust. To talk of Colston, therefore, is meaningless unless we recognise that our knowledge of that long dead figure will always be dependant upon how we read, interpret and understand the historical record which is made up of histories, biographies, memoirs, documents, images, statues and artefacts. And because most of the historical record was created, constructed, produced […]

The Moral Economy

The transition from rural economy to the free market, and the resistance

The phrase “the moral economy” was first used by E. P. Thompson, within the essay of the same name. He explained it as was part of a long change in economic and community relations. As Britain industrialised at speed, there was a change from a paternalistic rural economy, to a free market guided by the ideology of Adam Smith. The moral economy related to part of the resistance from the labouring poor during these economic and social upheavals. This was community based, with a crowd of people […]

WWII: Upper class protected British fascist leader Mosley, whilst supposedly fighting fascism

The Second World War in Europe is often presented as a war against fascism though this is conflated with a war against the nations of Germany and Italy and by default with Germans and Italians. The VE day celebrations today will be presented as those of a nation united against the Nazis. However, numerous anti-fascist Germans or Italians were interned in poor conditions in the UK whilst the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, although interned, was better treated and released early. Upon the […]

A brief note about John Addington Symonds

I have been interested, for some time now, in the writings of John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) mainly because of my researches into the legal censoring and subsequent bibliographical history of Volumes 1 and 2 of Havelock Ellis’s six volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex [Studies]. Symonds collaborated with Ellis on Sexual Inversion (homosexuality), which was originally Volume 1 of Studies and that volume is now considered an important if not foundational text in the early history of […]

Update – Brecon plaque commemorates slave trader

Should society memorialise a slave trader?

In the Welsh town of Brecon, upon an old wall, along Captains Walk (a name based on a fiction), is a slate plaque commemorating the life of a slave trader who resided in the town. The plaque was commissioned by Brecon Town Councillors in 2009, erected in October 2010 (during Black History Month), and makes no reference to the fact that Captain Phillips was a 17th century slaver. Captain Thomas Phillips was the commander of the infamous slave ship the Hannibal in the 1690s. He was directly […]

An Alternative History of Westbury-on-Trym Workhouse

Gilbert’s Act of 1782. ‘An act for the better relief and employment of the poor’

In November, 2019 Louise Ryland-Epton gave an engaging talk entitled ‘By Pity and by Terror? A Contrary View of Workhouses’ at the M Shed, Bristol as part of the UWE Regional History Centre series of talks. As I had read and examined reports on shocking victimisation, neglect, exploitation and dehumanising treatment of later workhouse inmates I was intrigued to hear about an alternative, pre 1834 Poor Law Act, workhouse erected in Westbury-on-Trym. We are all familiar with the many indignant […]

The South West Tribunal

Conscientious Objectors in WWII

Foreword During the Second World War, over 60,000 men and 1,000 women applied to register as conscientious objectors (COs) in England, Wales and Scotland. Although this was at least three times as many as in the First World War; it has remained something of an under reported history. The experience of First World War and Second World War COs vary in a number of ways. Sympathetically framed legislation and the fact that the tribunals came under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour rather than […]