Friday 16 August 2019

My Family and Peterloo

Today is the 200th anniversary of Peterloo and in the 1880s a photograph was taken of a group of people which was published as The Failsworth Veterans of Peterloo, and the first time I saw it I damn near choked on my tea. Sitting at the front of the group the fat man on the left is Thomas Schofield, with Alice, his wife who is dressed all in black on the right. When I showed this photograph to my parents in the 1980s my dad remarked ruefully that you expect buggers like the Schofields to have been involved in events like that.

My mother's family rented 29 Old Road, Failsworth, Manchester, from the Schofield family from before the Great War to about 1960 when we moved into number 31 right next door. My mother told people that we had the gipsy in us, you see...

No matter which house it was the Schofield's owned the whole block and every time it rained the tenants had to put buckets in the bedrooms to catch the water. If we had a typical British summer then my dad got very little sleep as those buckets filled very quickly and needed regular emptying. In winter the back yard became a skating rink, which made a trip to the bog an interesting experience.

A descendant of the Peterloo couple was Redfern Schofield who was the head of the family when I was a very small boy. He became a conscientious objector in the Great War and was always called Old Conchie by my time. 

On my wall today I have the above photo of my mother's maternal uncle, Fred Burden, his wife Maggie and their daughter. When my maternal grandmother died in 1920 her three brothers met up, in a pub of course, and decided what to do with her three children. Fred Burden got Rose, my mother, and she joined his family as one of Old Conchie's tenants. The photo was taken in about 1916 and shows Fred Burden proudly wearing his army uniform as one of Kitchener's Volunteers. He died in 1926 at the age of 40...

Fast forward to 1939 and Dick Schofield, Redfern's son, was also a conchie, and he was known as Young Conchie to differentiate him from his dad. My father, who married my mother just after the war ended, served in the Royal Artillery and helped lug a 25-pounder around Europe. My mother worked six 12-hour shifts a week at the Avro-Roe factory that built the Lancaster bombers that did so much to dehouse the population of Germany during the 1940s.

This photo shows the whole block that was owned by the Schofield family. On the far left you can just see the Schofield's shoe shop at number 27 Old Road and across the street and opposite was their furniture warehouse, since demolished. One night in the 1950s some blokes were hard at work breaking into the warehouse and my mum woke dad up to tell him. He told her to go back to sleep and ignore it, which she did.

The Schofield family was made up of Nonconformist, Liberal, teetotal, sanctimonious, anally-retentive, self-righteous gits. My father was a labourer, my mother a dressmaker and they were both low-Anglicans who voted Tory because you don't vote for the landlord's party, do you?

Just over a decade after Peterloo the Great Reform Act was passed which enfranchised the Schofield men and their ilk. They became the local petty capitalists which was the sum total of their desires. I suspect they were like Thatcher's family and people like that are always loathed by the bulk of the local population who would make a point of adopting a political view contrary to theirs because their interests are invariably not ours. It is probably why when the bulk of working men got the vote in the 1880s many voted Tory; my family certainly did and the first time my parents ever voted Labour was in 1983. They recognised in Thatcher a creature so loathsomely typical of the petty capitalist class that she forced them to break the habits of a lifetime.

So, when looking at Peterloo, you need to remember that many of the demonstrators were not proto-Leninists who battled to overthrow the existing order. They were aspirational arsewipes who wanted to enjoy their place within that order and pretty soon after 1819 that is exactly what they did.

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