October 22, 2014, by bramh2

Hammer of Defiance

By Andy Barrett, Excavate

We have started rehearsals on our re-working of The Hammer of Defiance, which tells of an early Luddite attack, in Sutton in Ashfield in 1811, and the subsequent trial in 1812, of Benjamin Hancock and six others. The original performances of this community play, as all of the shows that Excavate (formerly Hanby and Barrett) produce, took part less than a couple of miles away from the original attacks. This time the show is taking place at the old Shire Hall in Nottingham, now the Galleries of Justice, where the men were tried.

The Luddites have a reputation of being simple machine breakers; men who were anti-technology. Which is a useful way to define them if you want to undermine their actual programme. The Hammer of Defiance was an attempt to show the people of Ashfield that in fact the men who were described as Luddites were amongst the earliest groups that set themselves up in defence against the powers of the capitalist system. Indeed whilst they were carrying out their campaign of direct action there were others, under the leadership of Gravenor Henson, who is a major character in the play, who were campaigning through reform by parliamentary means. The results of which were underwhelming.

Framework knitting was the dominant industry in the early nineteenth century in much of Nottinghamshire, to be replaced by coal mining around fifty years after the trial of Hancock and the others. The pits of course have now been closed, under the same economic system that produced the conflict that was initiated through Luddism. The similarities between the confrontations of the Luddites and the authorities and the Miner’s Strike of 1984 are clear to see, with large areas of the county operating under virtual martial law and the courts being used to intimidate and quell any threat to the economic orthodoxy of the day. We didn’t need to draw any parallels. The audience understood that the story that they were seeing unfold, of a battle between labour and capital, was one that they had lived through and were continuing to live through. And much of the area, it is fair to say, has still not recovered from the savage economic and political attacks of thirty years ago.

We’re very pleased to be re-presenting this show as part of the Festival. The men who took part in these attacks against the frame owners were desperate; they had no-where else to turn. It wasn’t an act of rebellion, simply an act of necessity. History does, as we all know, have a habit of repeating itself. And it’s helpful to understand how things evolve, and of the moments where the fault lines were exposed, where battles were fought and the subsequent repercussions. With the high priests of the monetarist system, the IMF, making the incredible admission that the game is up and economic growth is a myth, and the Labour party continuing to struggle with its stance of reshuffling paper clips and hoping no-one will notice its absolute adherence to the status quo and consequent total impotence, surely it is time for the battle to recommence in earnest.

As Gravenor Henson says in the play, whatever the tool of struggle an elemental argument needs to be resolved. ‘That trade must be the slave to human society, not human society the slave to trade’.

The play “Hammer of Defiance”,  recounting the Luddite rebellion, is part of the Heroes and Villains: subversion and rebellion in Nottinghamshire events programme for the Being Human Festival of the Humanities. It will take place on 21st November at 8pm and 22nd Nov at 3pm & 8pm at the Galleries of Justice: Court 1.


Posted in Being Human Festival