How can one describe that first day of the siege of Newgate? Deepest, darkest, night has stolen over the Newgate in a serene and imperturbable manner. It is a night lit up here and there by the gas lamps carried to and fro by prisoners as they tend to their business in the confines of the gaol. It is a night filled with fierce expectation and for some thick with dread. The cells and wards are empty, for all have spilled forth from the bowels of the prison to man the walls and gates against the enemy without. There is not a prisoner (nor a gaoler), that is not manning some point of exit or entry, against the fierce onslaught of the owners of the means of production! For they have all heard tell of the dreadful consequences of such uprisings, of the hangings and transportations that must surely follow.
Unless, that is, the Union Rep can force the hand of Aberdeen’s government bringing them to a position of negotiation. A dozen bonfires have been lit providing some warmth and light for the men and women clustered around them. The comforting blaze cheers the hearts and lightens the conversations of those who sit cleaning their rifles before the open fires.
“Do you think they will give us what we ask?” whispers Nathaniel to Bart Tobin who shrugs and replies, “Did they do so before? But then what choice do we have? T’is this or a hanging!”
“They’ll not hang me!” replies Aggie Brandt aggressively twining together two sticks of gelignite, “If you ain’t more careful with them explosives they wont have to!” retorts Nathaniel as she thrusts the bundled sticks of dynamite into her waistband. “I’m waiting for one of those politicians to pass a little closer to them walls so I can drop a tidy parcel of fireworks on em!” she replies.
“Just one tidy parcel?” asks Nathaniel Spate whose eldest son has been transported to New Zealand already, and whose wife and children must now throw themselves on the mercy of the Spitalsfield Workhouse. “And us bound for the long drop already! What’s the point?” muttered another as he wrapped his jacket more tightly about him.
“What’s the point?” exclaims Bart Tobin, “What’s the point? When ye little ones was staggering abowt with nowt but a rotted piece of bloater to eat, did ye ask then what the point was? When you and yours warmed yourselves by a candle whilst the bosses family set all snug and comfy by a roaring fire, did you need to ask then what the point was?”
Nathaniel shook his head in agreement, “Come man! There’s stories amongst us that should make a mill owner cry for shame but they will not! An as should make them politicians negotiate a compromise but they will not!”
“Oh but they will!” replied another, set close by the fire his face covered in bristle and part obscured by shadow, “Or we shall blow their precious Bastille up and mingle our blood with theirs in the doing of it!” and so the talk continued loud and ferocious for a spell before lulling into silence broken only by the sound of weapons being disassembled, cleaned and reassembled. But in the midst of all this industriousness and brooding introspection, there drifted hither and thither two men. Cloaked mostly in shadow, though, from time to time, their earnest faces were lit up by crimson flame, they walked amongst the workers stopping to talk briefly with first this one and then that one. Like ephemeral spirits they appeared to float from the grounds of the prison to its walls, their heads pressed close together. Until at length one of them cried out,”Yes I see it! I have it! Come with me!”.
The eyes of the silk mill workers follow the brisk quick steps of both men with something akin to hope, for it is none other than the Union Rep and an intrepid reporter lately returned from the Crimean War and t’is of this they are talking. “We can have no reason to regret our military losses against such a brutal and savage enemy. The war went hard against our men but they fought valiantly, most valiantly sir! T’is my only regret that as out numbered and out-gunned as we were, we could not carry the day and many brave lives were taken”.
The Union Rep shakes his head grimly and puffing hard on his pipe catches the eye of the newspaper reporter. There is neither humour nor anger in that gaze but it is cool and steady and it makes the intrepid reporter swallow, hard.
“We have talked at length of the strike and the riots and this siege of Newgate prison and yet always, always, you draw our conversation back to the charge of the Light Brigade. Out with it! What has the Crimean War to do with this strike?”
And so the intrepid reporter tells him of his sea voyage on the Resurgam and of his arrival at Sebastopol. He speaks of the pride and valour of war, of the desperate courage of the soldiers as they fought back wave after wave of Russian infantry. “They were like lambs to the slaughter! Done to death by the hissing fire of cannon, struck down by the murderous onslaught of grapeshot and cannister! Oh! They were heroic in battle! But they had not a chance, the Russians were too well equipped with cannon and gun!”. The reporter’s face was expressionless as he stuck his hand inside his shirt and pulled out a little brass gun plate and with it a photograph, these he handed to the Union Rep who stared at them hard in the half light of a camp fire.
Is it possible dear reader to describe the emotions that flitted in rapid succession over the Union Reps face? First, horror that a representative of the crown could be guilty of such heinous treachery. Then disbelief at the very notion of a politician profiting from the deaths of men he himself had helped send to war! Finally, triumphant glee for now he has a winning hand and there will be no more hangings nor transportations! Not after this! “Grid-Iron armaments?! Lord Grid-Iron supplied the cannon and guns the Russians used at the Crimea? Lord Grid-Iron?! But they say the man has gone missing!” he looked sharply at the intrepid reporter,
“Who else knows of this?” the young man blushed with rage, his eyes lit up with a dangerous fire, “Why only the man who put me here in this prison, till I should agree to change my story” the Union Rep smiled grimly, “Let me guess, it was Lord Palmerston? Then we have him at the rattle! If this story gets out it’ll bring the whole government down! Nathaniel Spate & Aggie Brandt to me!”. As if from nowhere the two silk mill workers materialise, weapons at the ready, “Aggie Brandt, I need you to get a message across to Lord Molesworth’s housekeeper! Nathaniel I need you to cut across to James Fitchett and here’s what you are to say”. He divulged his information to these trusted scouts and watched them closely as like him they first displayed horror and then implacable rage.
“But isn’t the prison being guarded?” asked the intrepid reporter, though in truth had he been a member of the under-classes he would have known,” The Bow Street police, the silk mill workers and the prison guards all have one thing in common, they’re all union. Nathaniel and Aggie will pass as easily through their ranks as if they were ghosts in the night!”
The Union Rep puffed on his pipe once more and chuckled for it seemed to him that the sweet smell of liberty was within his members grasp!