In a catalogue of second-hand books issued several years ago by B. Halliday, of Leicester, one item was described as "The Original Notice of a Strike by Norfolk Agricultural Labourers." According to the catalogue it was written in an illiterate hand about the year 1790. The Notice begins with: "Hond. Gent. Men. this is to Aquaint you That the poor Laberes of Feltwell parish have felt hard ship a nuf." The demand made by the Agricultural Labourers was for a wage of 2/- a day, and the Notice goes on to say: "We shal all be sattisfied with this state Gentlemen and if you are not We are all Determine to proseed further in it. Gentlemen we have perposed to make it a Generil thing in the parish both singel and Maried all that belong to the parish."
During the month of May, 1816, there were riots at Downham Market and at other places. A demand had been made for a wage of 2/- a day to be paid every Monday and Thursday which was refused. Several arrests were made, and, at the Norfolk Assizes held at Norwich on 17th August, 1816, twenty prisoners were found guilty of rioting at Downham Market, Southery and Feltwell. Sixteen of them received sentence of death, but two only were executed, Daniel Harwood and Thomas Thody, which took place on Castle Hill, Norwich, on August 31st. Thomas Thody had a wife and family and is said to have been terribly distressed at his fate.
AN AGRICULTURAL STRIKE 1879-1912.
This series of letters is from Lucy, the great grandmother of Feltwellian Tim O'Rorke and wife of the Rev. O'Rorke, to Marny the lady who had brought up Lucy after the death of her own mother. They are printed here by kind permission of Tim.
(A note added from Tim's cousin who researches the O'Rorke family history)
The family were well established in Feltwell by the time this incident took place. It is fortunate that Marny was away on one of her frequent rounds of visiting the titled friends, because it might otherwise have gone unrecorded and it is an interesting little piece of social history as well as showing Henry O'Rorke as a much more forceful character than anything else that has appeared so far.
Feltwell Rectory - August l7th
My own sweetest and most precious Mother-Marny, your darling note and sweet Lulu's saying she is so well and so fat came to delight us this morning. We have had most exquisite weather ever since the service on Friday just what darling Henry prayed for "Warm sunshine to ripen the grain and cool breezes to refresh the workers" - and the Harvest should begin in good earnest today - but - we hear rumours that there will be a strike instead - and that a number of men were standing on "Crop Hill" and talking angrily - our sympathies are with the men - they ask 8£ because the harvest is better than usual, so the work will be heavier. The masters (we hear) will only give 7£ - and say they will engage strangers - it could not make such a serious difference to the Masters, and it is madness to alienate the men - and the more so when we think how near is the general election. We are praying earnestly that peace may be made - I have written to sweet Annie to know if they can provide house linen for the nursery (lovely word) and for their own bed. As if we have a family here, we may be in difficulties.
No Clergyman yet - but we wrote to 5 different sources on Saturday - so we hope to hear tomorrow and that "they will not all speak at once" -
The next letter will be to Cullen - Lulu's half ticket safely received, and we will get one return one to Edinburgh only - Tenderest love to sweet Lulu - ever and ever am I thine own so deeply devoted and grateful child Lucy.
Feltwell Rectory - August 18th 1891
My own sweetest and most precious Mother Marny,
We awoke to pray for you and sweetest Lulu on your long journey today -and I feel sure that the kind Lord will watch over you. Here we have a sad change in the harvest weather, such drenching rain - but we cannot wonder when there is this sad strife, that God withdraws his blessing.
Henry and I went to East Hall after dinner last night, we thought Mrs Sparke might be feeling rather sad, as she is quite alone there. We found her quite troubled and anxious. She had been in the village on her usual errands of kindness, not knowing the state of things there - All through the day these men from other places had been going about in a sort of procession with some rough sort of music and some of them with blackened faces and false beards and whiskers getting the men to "come out on strike" - and going from public house to public house, becoming more noisy and more incapable as evening came on -
The women and children standing about in groups - the women miserable, the children wondering and liking anything of a show - none of the men she met would take any notice of Mrs Sparke except one half tipsy fellow who tried to argue with her.
Mrs Upcher is in Scotland, the Newcombes were at Lowestoft - but Edward returned last night - We have not heard anything this morning - but I fear it has gone too far to be stopped. When I went to Bromley a poor young woman with a baby not 3 weeks old, told me she was going to see
about work for her husband, as the strike prevented him from working at his gas-fitting - and she said "Oh, we poor wives can't bear these strikes, and there are many of the men can't bear them either - but they daren't say so they are far too afraid."
Mrs Watney asked me to tell you about a young man who died in Maderia whilst they were there this spring - His name was Corbet, he came from Glasgow - he had a pious mother and he had believed himself to be pious also - but reading "Robert Elsmere" brought him to unbelief - He broke a blood vessel while out riding, and fall from his horse, and was carried back to his Hotel in imminent danger - the wife of the landlord loves the blessed saviour - came to nurse him till his mother could come from Scotland - he was in blank misery and said that either he must die in despair or return (if that were possible) to the faith of his childhood.
This dear woman read the Bible to him, and Lady Sybil St Clair sent by her mother used to come and read the Bible to him also, and he came to the Saviour's feet and died in peace.
We have just heard from the village that there is no settlement made with the men. It is more than sad.
Ever and Ever with fondest love to Lulu am I thine own so deeply devoted and grateful child Lucy
PS May I send my love to dearest Lady Seafield.
Feltwell Rectory - August 19th 1891
The Docks have risen to 74 thank God
My own sweetest and most precious Mother Marny
Oh what a pleasant surprise was the tender telegram of last night - How thankful it made me to know that you were safely at the end of your long Journey and that sweetest Lulu is better - I heard from Colonel Clarke that he had arranged that Ashley should see the Doctor yesterday evening and then I trust to hear that the whole of September will be given him, and this the kindest Lord will have answered all our prayers for us. Meanwhile Col Clarke hopes to take him and Hugh for the long promised Sunday at Brighton next Saturday which will be very good for our darling.
We have heard of two clergymen today and hope to get one or other of them. They are Mr Biggs and Mr Bates! So they can hardly be "fallen Admirals" but as it is any for a month the ancestry is of little consequence. Last night we had dear old Mrs Sparke to dine with us (on resoles and roses) - we invited her to stay after her evening call - Charlotte quickly exchanged the white service for the lovely pink and gold - your gift - and there were so many flowers that it was impossible to see how little food there was! - But she said she had had an ample repast and she was greatly cheered because the men had been bowing to her in the village, and it was reported that they were coming to terms. However I am grieved to say that Mr Newcombe came this morning to say that the men are determined to carry on the Strike and that the Masters think they can gather the Harvest without them - by the aid of machinery, and the old men and the women. It is too sad - the idle men will fill the public houses, and then there will be no money for the rent and such strife and misery.
Our new man is most industrious, quiet and steady - tenderest love to precious lulu etc. Lucy
Feltwell - August 20th
My own sweetest and most precious Mother Marny - This Joyful telegram has just come from Ashley - What a gracious tender Lord is ours.
This afternoon with Gwenniue's help I have been compounding bottling and labelling 1½ gallons of Whooping Cough Mixture - and then copying Henry's beautiful letter of appeal to Mr Upcher to be generous to the men that the same letter might go to the Newcomes also - It is too miserable -this is the 4th day the men have been idle - and with no money coming in they are the picture of dejection.
Ever your most devoted etc
No change about the strike as yet and no answer to Henry's letter -what will become of our poor people we cannot think - meanwhile we are in the midst of pouring rain to add to their depression - I know you and sweet Lulu will pray about it -
The Clergyman is we think finally settled - Mr Biggs and his brother so the servants will have easy times - Mr Biggs took care of Helmingham for Mr Backhouse during his holiday - he described him in his telegram as "Angelical" (we suppose the E.V. were omitted in the transit) "Single, sixty, acceptable preacher" -
Farewell with deepest love ever and ever etc
Feltwell Rectory - August 22nd 1891
My own sweetest and most precious Mother Marny
Such a deep disappointment has come to us this morning - there is no peace between the Masters and the Men - indeed they seem farther apart than ever - and what will happen we cannot think.
- Henry went down (not waiting for any food) to the Farmer's Meeting, and he wd like to have gone with them to the men's - but they did not wish it - so he could but withdraw -
They offered £7.10s but the men will not take it now - They should give them 8£ - the work is very hard and the prices are rising - We can only pray on-
I am so glad you are going to dear Car - and that Lulu should see her and know her -
Farewell my own loveliest Marny. My heart will be so tenderly with you on the 24th of such sorrowful memories ever and ever your own so deeply devoted and grateful child, Lucy
Feltwell Rectory - August 23rd 1891
No receipt of it has come.
My own sweetest and most precious Mother-Marny
It is grievous that you should have got a chill, but thank God that sweet Lulu could write that it was rather better - Oh may He, in His tender Mercy speedily and entirely cure you, treasure of my heart - and make you strengthened to meet the strain of Winter.-
Mrs Clarke and Violet and Ida are here, and it is very pleasant to have them - Ashley we expect tomorrow - Annie writes "I wish you could have seen his face when he came back from getting his leave! - It is a delightful answer to prayer -
Sweet Louie's letter gives rather an alarming thought about the rent of the Manse - but I feel sure Mrs Douglas wrote 30£ and I should think her letter is safe -
Our sad state of things remains here - Yesterday the men came round to make a collection for those who have large families - there is no hope that they will give in, for the matter is in the hands of the agitators who will not allow them to take less than 8£ and the sympathy of almost everyone is with them, for the sum they ask is only what is right -
But alas the gentlemen show no signs of yielding - indeed they have disappeared except Mr Edward Newcome - Henry said I might write an appeal to the Mr Newcomes, which I did but they cannot see the danger (that they might avert) of hopelessly alienating the working men.
Henry has felt quite cast down in sight of the present distress and dread of what the future will be. He preached a lovely sermon on "Take care of him and whatsoever thou spendest more when I come again I will repay thee"
The duties and the privileges of the host of the Inn. The Inn is the world and the Inn is the Church - both are but transitory arrangements for pilgrims to pass through on the way Home - to the hosts of the Inn of Christ's Church is given the privilege to receive, to shelter to cherish and to help and to heal every poor troubled sinful creature that is brought within their reach. And the measure of the kindness to be shown is nothing less than Love - Love your poor neighbour.
Here I must stop - this wonderful note has come and we are going to Church to pour out our thanksgiving.
God Bless Edward Newcome.
Ever and ever etc.
Hall Brandon, Norfolk
22nd August 1891
My dear Mrs O'Rorke,
A line to relieve your anxiety. The strike is over, we have given in, and the men set to work tomorrow. I have given out that they may thank you and Mr O'Rorke for this.
I must now stop my reserve forces who were coming shortly. I hope my forebodings for the future may not be realized.
Yrs very truly
E. C. Newcome
Feltwell Rectory, Brandon - August 24th
My own sweetest and most precious Mother Marny,
I meant to have written you a long letter, - but it has been a busy Monday morning and many interuptions so perhaps it will only be a beginning.
I do not think we ever lived through so sudden and wonderful a revulsion of feeling as we did yesterday evening - and I long to write you the whole account -
Mr Newcome met Henry outside the Church after the morning service and said that as the men would not take the £7.10 there was nothing more to be done, but to get men from a distance and he said he had arranged for this.
So, we could only pray on, and the sight of the downcast faces of the women and the groups of men hanging about with hopeless looks made us utterly miserable,
Just before we set off to the evening service came that wonderful note to which I wrote a hurried answer of deepest thankfulness - The news had spread like wildfire, and when we reached the Vestry Pearson said "there's a lot of men come into Church already, and many were those who do not come as a habit - Henry's sermon prepared during our sorrowful week on II Kings 7 part of 2nd.
"The thought of unbelief that looking only earthwards, ignores Divine Power - and how the miraculous interposition of God turned famine into plenty and sorrow into joy, and despair into hope's fruition, in one night - and so he Just spoke of the blessing that had come into the parish -that the dark cloud had passed away and that peace had come back - and that it was God's interposition - Coming out of Church everything was changed - the people spoke in cheerful voices - smiles were on every face
Addison and some of the leaders of the strike met Henry and in the most beautiful spirit, thanked and blessed him and were not the least triumphing over the masters but said - Now all will be forgiven and forgotten - we shall work with all our hearts.
This morning sounds of harvest fill the air and Henry out early heard the men singing in the fields.
I know you will pray for a spiritual harvest.
Ever and ever etc.
My dear Mrs O'Rorke,
Many thanks for your most kind letter. Praise to whom praise is due. If it had not been for your letter and Mr O'Rorke's pleading I should have been unable to cut the Gordian Knot. Remember that you are responsible for the next strike, and if my 15 men arrive you will have to entertain them.
Two of the strike leaders came to me tonight to settle a final point and said that as Mr O'Rorke said in his sermon all should be forgotten and forgiven and they would start to work tomorrow as cheerfully and as willingly as if nothing had taken place to which I cordially assented.
Yours very truly
E, C. Newcome
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