Friday, 27 September 2013

Lesley Kipling: 'Luddites in My Life', a tribute

Lesley Kipling with an authentic 'Enoch'
I was saddened to hear of the death yesterday of the Huddersfield historian and author Lesley Kipling. Lesley has done more than most to raise the profile of the real story of the Luddites over the past 30-plus years, and her meticulous research and work in chronicling the history of the West Riding Luddites, alongside her co-author Alan Brooke, is unparalleled and deserves much more attention and consideration than she has received. Indeed, the monumental work 'Liberty or Death' is in my opinion the finest work on the West Riding Luddites, finer than any other work by 'professional' academics I can think of. Without it, and the indispensable 'On the Trail of the Luddites' co-authored with Nick Hall (sadly, long out of print), this website would not exist in the same way and my work would have been much more difficult.

Due to ill-health, Lesley was conspicuously absent from many of the events held in Huddersfield during the 2012/2013 part of the bicentenary commemorations, although she was present at the official republication launch of 'Liberty or Death' in May 2012. Although I got a brief chance to say 'hello' to her, I did not then and will not now be able to talk with her in depth about her work and my appreciation for it, which will be a lasting regret.

Alan Brooke has written a wonderful obituary about Lesley, which is featured on his website here.

The article below, 'Luddites in My Life', was first published in 1988 in the bulletin of Huddersfield Local History Society, and I am republishing it here as a tribute.
'Luddites in My Life'

One way or another, a great deal of my life seems to be taken up by Luddites - talking about them, reading about them, thinking about them, writing about them. Even as I travel to and from work on the bus I regularly pass John Wood's Cropping Shop, Fishers Shop, the site of the Horsfall murder, Dungeon Wood or Milnsbridge House (Yes, Metro Kirklees do have some odd bus routes!). And each time I pass these places, I find myself thinking once again about the men involved. I often feel that if I ever bumped into them I would know them instantly, so much do they seem like living people to me.

You have probably come to the conclusion by this time that I am completely potty, and you may well be right, but there have been periods of my life where I have breathed, slept and eaten Luddites, metaphorically speaking, and this has left its mark.

My most frequent Luddite activity (not to be misconstrued I hope!) is to go out and give talks, which I do very frequently. The groups which I visit vary from the well informed and keenly interested, through to the less informed but interest to those who quite frankly would prefer me to give a talk on the most inexpensive way of buying disposable nappies. The reactions of various groups are obviously different. To some extent my views on the Luddites are not conventional, and many would disagree with some of them. However, after many years of researching the Luddites and their background and thinking of them both in the context of their own period and the present day, I have come to conclusions which I believe firmly, and would argue with anyone who held other views, putting my own case in as reasoned a manner as possible.

So, on the occasions I am heckled I am quite prepared for this, indeed I expect it, and without saying anyone else was incorrect, I would simply state the reasons for my own views. Frequently I am asked questions which I cannot answer. Sometimes this is because there is no answer, or at least none that I know of, at other times it is because the question is so unexpected that I have never thought of it myself. In either case, I do try to discover the answer if it is possible, because research never ends, and I am constantly adding odds and ends to my store of knowledge. For this reason I am also always grateful for any snippets of information or tradition that any of my audience may have to offer.

Because of my views, I often approach an audience with some trepidation - with some groups I can expect a sympathetic hearing, some I am unsure of, and with others I tend to anticipate a touch of hostility. However, I've never had an audience walk out on me yet, though there's always a first time! More commonly, people will nod off - I don't mind, as it is easy to do if you are sitting in a warm room listening to someone droning on, and often feel like it myself after a hard day at work - the only difference is that I have something to keep me awake! I always say that I never show slides for this reason - turning out the lights only encourages people to nod off quicker! Often when booked to give a talk, I feel as I stagger home from work that the last thing I want to do is set off again, usually in foul weather. But I have never lost my enthusiasm for my subject, no matter how often I repeat my talk, and I soon shake off my lethargy - after all, it is new to my audience if not to me.

Normally when giving a talk there is only a limited amount of time, so I always concentrate on giving the background to the Luddite risings, rather than talking about the events of the year. It may be less interesting but I feel that this is one of the least understood aspects of Luddite history and also one of the most important. I always point out that there are numerous books available which record events and those who are interested can read more for themselves.

The other main aspect of my life with the Luddites is working with the Media. That sounds very grand - much grander than it is! I occasionally manage to supply stories for the local newspapers, though naturally enough they prefer to write these up themselves. I have also done two broadcasts for Radio Leeds, both of which, unknown to myself, went out live - on the second occasion I was told it was to be recorded, but they changed their minds at the last moment, which unnerved me somewhat! Both were reasonably successful, but alas, I have no recording of them. I'm not sure whether it was more disturbing to sit in the Town Hall Cellar speaking into space, or to have the interviewer walk around Red House with me complete with microphone, cable and earphones!

Television is of course the most glamorous medium to be involved in - or so they say! I quickly learned from them all the jargon - particularly the need for 'visuals' - these are very important! So important that the presence of Marsden stocks close to Enoch Taylor's grave inspire an urge to have Luddites filmed in the stocks. No, I said, there wasn't any actual record of this. Disappointment all round! It is very difficult to curb the enthusiasm of television crews for this kind of theatrical effect. Real life is never quite exciting enough. My general observation is that BBC2 are the most upper class, ITV have the most money, and Look North are on a tight schedule and a tight budget.

The programmes I was involved with were a "Chronicle" episode on Riots, shot in the snow: during which I dined with Simon Winchester, later to languish in an Argentinian jail during the Falklands War (very distinguished conversation about Nannies and Public School life, and the meal was a disaster) and more recently Thames Television's "The Luddites". This was quite fascinating, as I worked with them over a period of months and they kept on phoning with awkward questions like 'What did the Luddites do in their spare time?' I think my answer was 'not a lot'. I also watched them do some of the filming, which was quite an experience, and very enjoyable. They did tell me I would object to some things they had done in the final film, and they were right, but on the whoIe I approved of the programme and, felt that they had captured the spirit of the times. My other experience was a brief item for 'Look North' when I had the distinction of being interviewed. This was very nerve racking and the interviewer had such beautiful blue eyes that I kept mine firmly fixed on the ground in case I dissolved into giggles. This was made all the more likely by the sight of the sound engineer with his furry microphone creeping round my feet! The questions were tough too, and to a large extent quite unexpected, so I had to think fast! Alas, I have no record of this historic recording either, so I am lost to posterity. However, the crews were quite charming and a lot of laughs!

Finally, I am involved in writing about the Luddites. "On the Trail of the Luddites" was published in 1982 (hence the chance for "Look North" viewers to see a film of me staring at my feet.) It was based on my original historical notes, but Nick Hall had the idea of turning it into a trail format and it was he who walked and biked the route, as I am no athlete! Despite vigorous protests at proof reading stage, the first edition came out with glaring errors which made me shudder, but these were corrected in the reprint. The book has been a great success, I believe, but sadly, despite what was said at the time, the publishers at Pennine Heritage do not pay Royalties. So neither Nick nor I are a penny better off, and of course, we have nothing in writing, to my Solicitors' regret!

My latest venture has been to write the introduction to the reprint of D.F .E. Sykes' Luddite novel 'Ben O' Bill's'. This wonderful little book was becoming very scarce, and a group of friends decided to mount a rescue attempt by publishing a reprint. I was honoured to be asked to write an introduction to such a marvellous book, and as someone said, I did come cheaper than most. As with all publishing ventures it was a risk, and so far none of the Lambsbreath Publications have even made back their original investment. An awful lot of our friends will be getting 'Ben O' Bill's' for Christmas! Having said that the venture has been fun, and an interesting experience for all of us, and a fascinating book has been returned to circulation. So, my most recent Luddite activity is giving publicity to Ben O' Bills and selling as many copies as possible. All who have read it have thoroughly enjoyed it, so here comes the plug - available from the publishers at Old Vicarage, Scammonden at £12.50 plus 25p p&p. It would make a wonderful Christmas present, as many of my friends and relatives are about to discover, so bear it in mind when writing your Christmas shopping list!

Why Lambsbreath publications many have asked? It's a long story, out of Cold Comfort Farm via homemade wine to the name of a publishing group, but it meant something to all of us, and my kitten, born shortly after publication date, has been named Lambsbreath in commemoration!

Luddites have led me into many fields, I often wonder where they'll lead me next! But I still find the subject as fascinating as ever, and will continue to pursue my enquiries and activities as long as I can. And who knows, one day, when I finally meet up with George Mellor and his comrades in the Happy Hunting Ground, I shall be able to discover the final answer to all my questions, and I shall at last know for sure. The only trouble is, I don't suppose they'll let me come back to tell you all the answers from my ultimate piece of research!

Lesley, with Alan Brooke, at the re-launch of 'Liberty or Death' in May 2012

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