Of all the righteous deeds that ever took place beneath the sun this was the best, of all the pleasures that from justice should ever transpire this was the most enduring. To see now the gates to Newgate Prison opening slowly and the prisoners both dazed and bemused stumbling forth. T’is a clear, cold, day my friends and one as will be etched in the memories of those who reluctantly did the liberating for some time to come. To have made reparations for a great social wrong and to have been made to do it, for fear of blossoming scandal! Why, even the bells of St Sepulchre ring out exultant over this triumph!
Look there my brothers and sisters look there! T’is the Union Rep! Valiant yet shrewd, heroic and yet longsuffering! Borne away upon the bowed shoulders of the silk mill workers, they whose reputations once smeared and sunk in calumny, now stand vindicated. An open cart stands a’fore the prison gates and as they place him down in it there he stands, waving his arms aloft and waiting for silence. All necks are stretched eagerly in his direction, all starved faces upturned. So many earnest faces, so many hope filled gazes from those who have braved the workhouse and prison for this victory.
“My Brothers and sisters! I stand before you as a man humbled by your sacrifices! For whilst I have slept comfortably upon a prison bed, many amongst you have braved the charity of Mr Ethelbert-Smythe and his workhouse!”.
Hearing the muttered curses and surveying the scarce hidden rage of the workers the Union Rep smiles inwardly, he continues “Ours has been a great sacrifice, family members transported to the colonies ne’er to be seen again if our masters had their way!”. Here and there loud sobs and howls of rage may be heard and still the Union Rep speaks on,”We have lost much my brothers and sisters, so much and yet in the end, they as called themselves our masters were forced to defeat! The eight hour day is ours my friends! It is ours and with it decent pay!”
“How much?” cries first one soul then another, for though word has reached them all, they will not believe it until he as has led them says it is so.
“Five shillings a piece for every adult, two shillings for every child”. Silence and something worst than silence, a thousand faces struggling betwixt faith and disbelief, five shillings? Five? They glance at each other, they look up at the stolid face of a man who has never yet lied to or misled them. Five shillings? Can it be true? After all this hardship and heartache? To return to work with improved wages and working conditions? Without further transportations or hangings? Can it be so? The adults struggle with this good news, but the children roar exultantly,“Hurrah for the Union Rep! Hurrah Hurrah for the Union Rep!”. And soon their cheers are joined by their mothers and fathers, their aunts and uncles, their brothers and sisters and grandparents, in short all the vast, grimy forest of indigent poor bearing London aloft on its shoulders. “Hurrah for the Union Rep!” the cart makes its way through the crowds that throng it and is soon lost amongst them as it is driven back to that place from whence it came,St Giles.
“Can it be true? Are they indeed freed? It seems but a dream! Would that my brother were here to enjoy this sight!”
Wendy Woodbine tilts her beribboned bonnet at the cart as it passes her, “T’is certainly strange” remarks the young man with her, tilting his hat with one hand, whilst the other, gloved in grey leather, rests upon an elegantly carved cane, “One would think he was royalty!”
Not since the funeral of that venerable fireman Master Braidwood, have such crowds lined the streets and thronged the byways of London. Not since the hanging of Mother Birthe-Rugge has there been such high spirits and good humour. See there calmly marching the chimney sweeps, red scarves tied around their necks, their scarlet banners held aloft for all to see. The music hall entertainers trail behind them, armed with musical insturments and waving their bowler hats in the air, whilst the ladies twirl their skirts and dance to the tune ‘Oh Susannah!’.
All the traders along the way have shut up shop, and now they also line the streets cheering and waving their caps in the air,”Hurrah for the silk mill workers, hurrah, hurrah and down with the rich!”. Hurrah and down with the rich! What a cry to freeze the heart and chill the bones of the aristocracy were it to be taken seriously! But only a few of its members are present and they are wholly disinclined to attend to the brayings of an impoverished mob. See there that glossy black carriage with the Westminster Palace coat of arms emblazoned upon it. But pray who is seated within it? None other than the Prime Minister and Palmerston!
“Is all in order?” asks the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston nods,
”Yes, but there were complications”
“What complications? How hard can it be to make off with a carpet bag?! Don’t tell me its still here! Lord Grid-Iron cannot still be in England!”
“A robbery was attempted by American secessionists and foiled by the Bow Street Police”
“By whom?!” The Prime Minister looks horrified but Lord Palmerston smiles,
“Mr Thickett-Kane whom we now have under arrest, fortuitously Inspector Depta was on hand with his men and so was able to take matters in hand”
“But what would he want with Lord Grid-Iron? Please tell me they shot the ingrate! The carpet bag, where is it now?”
Lord Palmerston pulled out his pocket watch, glancing down at it he said, “At this precise hour he’ll be aboard the Resurgam and on his way to the Americas, I don’t expect we shall ever lay eyes on him again”
“But what if he should think to return?”
“He will already have been apprised of how much the government knows, about his business dealings in the Crimea, t’is an act of high treason he has committed. I feel sure that once he comes to his senses he will consider his imposed exile a mercy!”
“Excellent! Now tell me, how goes our venture in the Crimea?”
One hundred and eighty dead from the failed Light Brigade charge in Balaklava, five hundred dead at the Battle of Inkerman…in fact this ‘venture’ fares not very well at all. Truth be told with statistics as inconvenient as this mounting up like the bodies of the dead, t’is a relief that such as Lord Tennyson exist. “Why such soaring prose as his stirs the patriotic and urges us on to further bravery, for ours is a just cause!” declares the recalcitrant Palmerston. The carriage glides on through the crowds with its politicians deep in discourse and wholly oblivious to the power of the poor that will, in due course, bring about the downfall of the cabinet, if these politicians but knew it!