Silence. In the streets that surround Newgate, in the Old Bailey that stern, unyielding matriarch that, emptied at last, squats stolidly alongside the prison, having supervision of its inmates. Silence, falling warmly upon the householders of Sloane Square, wrapped snugly in eiderdowns in well-heated bed chambers.
Not so for the men of Newgate prison, tossing and turning fitfully in their beds as the bells of St. Sepulchre toll sombrely overhead. The iron clanging of these bells in no way resembles the delicate wedding chimes of St Paul’s Cathedral, for the bells at St Sepulchre’s have only one main purpose and that is to act as harbinger’s of impending death. There is to be another execution a’fore the gates of Newgate and several more will pass unremarked at Wandsworth Gaol for the ruling classes have not yet finished doing as they would have wished with the silk mill workers of London. Does Father London weep for his infants that are no more? He may weep in vain, the hearts of the rich are unmoved.
The Nunneries have been shut for months all the well-fed employees lying restfully a-bed; the music halls have aggressively stood their ground, there will be no unbridled frolics, no licentious entertainments, no debauched drinking sessions whilst the working classes of the capital are forced to bleed, and starve, and tramp about in mourning weeds! And all for asking that their wages and their working conditions be improved!
Silence, cold and unyielding, mired in death and disease in the midst of a prison whose tenants sleep uneasily. And yet there is one who does not sleep, and yet another, and another and another. Slipping across the walls of the prison, opening prison gate after prison gate. Quietly oh so quietly! They steal from cell to cell opening doors, letting prisoners out, who in turn steal across other walls, and slither across other courtyards, till at last nearly all who are sane, and who wish to live are awakened and ready. “For better pay and conditions!” the cry rings out and soon becomes a roar,”For us, our children and our children’s children!” cries another.
The prison governor is asleep, the Union Rep reclining in his cot takes time to stuff his pipe, and slowly lights it. He savours the first puff, langourously draws in the next, pauses on the third, for he now hears the increasing clamour and see’s the torrent of freed inmates pouring into the courtyard from left and right. Now the prison governor is awakened and creeps from his bedchamber to that of the Union Rep who is sat fully dressed pipe in hand.
“Well, they are all gathered” says he calmly, taking a seat on the only chair the room furnishes. A prison Governor seated calmly in discussion with a prisoner who has just incited an uprising in his prison? How can this be? Like the black death or the pox, a malaise has spread throughout the chattering classes of London, quite unlike the deathly torpor those diseases bring. For this malaise is typified by a staunch and intractable determination to see justice of a kind never before seen, done. The judges and the barristers are perplexed by this intractability. Present the evidence as the barristers and the judges might, they can persuade no more juries to vote in favour of hanging the remaining five hundred silk mill workers Newgate prison holds. No more than they can persuade them to vote unanimously in favour of the transportation of anymore prisoners, to the harsh penal colonies of Australia.
The Broadsheets suggest that the governments reaction to the demands of the silk mill workers has been excessively harsh. And then of course there is the disappearance of Lord Grid-Iron, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and those unbridled revelations of his licentious behaviour and financial immorality. Is it true he had a hand in arming the insurrectionists who attempted to blow up the Theatre Royal? Heaven forbid!
“Prosperity! For our children! And out childrens children!” the cries ring out, gather force and bring the Union Rep and the prison Governor to their feet. “Well old friend” says the prison governor firmly shaking the Union Rep’s hand,
“T’is time!” but the Union Rep shakes his head. In spite of the flaming pyres being held aloft and carried to and fro by prisoners, whose running feet patter thunderously across the prison yard, in spite of the roars of determination, the time is not yet. He pauses, lights his pipe, cocks an ear and listens intently and then, he hears it, t’is like the first slight wave to hit a shore and t’is greeted instantly by silence. It builds it rises and it overtakes that of the men and women within the stone walls of Newgate, but that is because of the immensity of their silence. T’is the shrill war cry of the Chimney Sweeps! The prison Governor looks at his friend in stark disbelief, “but the last of them’s only got out of Great Ormond Street Hospital yesterday morn!” the Union Rep puffs slowly on his pipe, a triumphant look stealing over his face,”T’is Time to mount the battlements!” he declares.