Comrade Lesley Kipling passed away in the early hours of Thursday 26 September 2013, following a long battle against cancer.
Her funeral at Huddersfield Crematorium on 11 October was packed out with friends, work colleagues and comrades. The banner of her former Unison branch was unfurled and the replica ‘Enoch’, made to commemorate the bicentenary of the Luddite rising, stood in front of her coffin. Friends sang the songs she had requested, ‘Boulavogue’ and ‘Flower of Scotland’ and piped out the mourners with a lament. Her son John gave a moving tribute to her life as a mother, historian and socialist activist. Among the mourners were representatives form Kirklees Unison Branch and Hudderfield Local History Society. As well as many non-aligned socialists there were people from the Labour Party, the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party and Huddersfield Anarchist League, indicating the wide respect Lesley enjoyed across the spectrum of the local working class movement and a display of Left unity that would have delighted her.
On behalf of former comrades Ian Brooke delivered the following
I was moved to write these words, I never sought them out.
I got to thinking of Lesley often in the early days of this century after 9/11 when we saw the rise of Islamophobia and the BNP who were getting councillors locally and were then growing from strength to strength, and they would say how they were defending English culture, English traditions, the British way of life…. and I thought no, no, you do nothing.
And I thought of Lesley first and foremost as someone who did much to explained and keep alive the history of the Luddites, battled to save Westwood Mills, championed and fought to preserve the industrial heritage of our area; not as some insipid glorification as a bygone age or academic abstraction but as the real day to day struggle of real people.
And I remember her talks on the Luddites and how real and inspiring they were.
And in April a Luddite Day should be commemorated every year in this town and that should also be Lesley’s day for she has done more than most to keep their spirit alive and pass that knowledge on to other generations.
She supported workers memorial day every year while she could, commemorating the victims of industrial accidents, because she knew that those 17, mainly children, who were burnt to death at Colne Bridge Mill in 1818 is a struggle still in the lives of millions of children in sweatshops around the world.
She preserved also the traditions of Burns night, her Scottish heritage and had a love of the folk music of these isles, for history is our roots and the deeper they go, and stronger they are, the more bountiful is the canopy of tree of liberty.
She got me to thinking about countless people in this town of the left who as poets, historians, musicians, preserve the best of English traditions as our traditions.
And this got me to ponder on a phrase Lesley would have been acquainted with from the Socialist 10 Commandments, taught to Children in the Socialist Sunday Schools at the turn of the twentieth century – which says, in the 9th Commandment, “Do not think that to love your own country means that you should hate others or wish for war, which is a remnant of barbarism”.
She preserved the best of British tradition without allowing herself to be constrained by the narrow puerility of national boundaries.
She supported the cause of Irish Republicanism when it was unpopular to do so even in the Labour Movement and when the cause celebre’s of the left was Palestine, Nicaragua and South Africa she championed the forgotten struggle of the Kurds for self determination, to which she gave her time and energy in great quantities.
We used to joke that the reason the Kurdistan Workers Party sent young fighters to recuperate at Lesley’s was because Crimble Clough reminded them of the mountains of Kurdistan.
But they could not be in better hands or better care these young people, who had come from the most horrendous of circumstance of war and had witnessed the most horrific things, given respite by Lesley at her idyllic retreat. Today, for that love and support, she would probably fall foul of ‘Anti-terror’ laws.
I remember the Socialist Labour Party Constituency Executive Meetings that she hosted at her house, though I imagine non of us can remember the matters arising, minutes or order of business that occurred, since Lesley’s wine cellar was far too overflowing and generous and merriment quickly took over the proceedings.
I could say much. Her house that was like a museum itself full of books and pictures, maps and objets d’art that one could wander round for ever gazing at things and soaking up the knowledge that was her passion and her life.
To many of us for whom religion has no solace, the individual still exists after their passing in the enduring memories we have of them, in their influence and in the atoms and nutrients they return to the earth and sky in the wondrous cycle which is life.
And now ironically, in her passing Lesley too has become history and, even in death, she continues to deepen and strengthen the roots of the tree of liberty, so that the canopy may burgeon and blossom; and do not doubt for one minute that the tree bears fruit now in the humanity, compassion and beauty that Lesley bequeathed to the world and that each one of us spreads all around.
(an abbreviated version of this appeared in the Huddersfield Examiner, 1 October 2013)
Lesley was well known in local history circles both due to her long service in Huddersfield Local History Library and because of her own work as a historian. Lesley did more than anyone to keep local interest in the Luddites alive through her books ‘On the Trail of the Luddites’ and ‘Liberty or Death’. She also did countless talks on the topic to various local bodies and her firm contention that the three men executed for the assassination of William Horsfall were innocent provoked much debate. She also delivered talks on ‘Pigs and Privies’, about the sanitary condition of Huddersfield, and was a mine of information about the town and the surrounding area. Her encyclopaedic knowledge will be sadly missed by local researchers.
Lesley was extremely concerned about the local industrial heritage and campaigned vigorously to prevent its destruction. She was particularly distressed by the vandalisation of Low West Wood Mill, which she fought long and hard to have restored.Lesley was not only merely a writer on working class and labour history she was, as long as her health permitted an active trade unionist and revolutionary socialist. She served as first a NALGO then UNISON steward and was for a long time Trades Council delegate and International Officer of the UNISON branch. She left the Labour Party, which she joined in the 1960s, when it abandoned the miners, failed to oppose the Poll Tax, dropped nuclear disarmament and abandoned Clause 4, all causes dear to Lesley’s heart. She later joined the Socialist Labour Party but, like many others, found her admiration of Arthur Scargill misplaced and disgusted by the petty sectarianism in the party dropped out before she was pushed.
Lesley was a staunch supporter of the Irish Republican movement, although never condoned the excesses of its’ military campaign, which she regarded as self defeating as well as morally unjustifiable. She was a member of the Labour Committee on Ireland and actively supported the campaign to ban plastic bullets, release of the Birmingham 6 and other campaigns. She was also proud of her Scottish roots and had she been well enough would have been involved in the campaign for Scottish independence – but for a Socialist Republic, not the SNPs anaemic version of home rule.
Her concern with oppressed minorities led her to support the struggle for Kurdish independence in Turkey and she was an active supporter of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK. Several young PKK cadres stayed at Lesley’s home while extending their education in English and politics. Lesley established a campaign for the release of PKK supporters gaoled for an attack on a Turkish bank in London. Such was the respect that the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign had for her abilities and commitment she was chosen to visit the leader of the PKK , Abdullah Ocalan when he sought refuge in Rome , Lesley’s first trip out of the country for some time – and a daunting responsibility she met with courage. Unfortunately while she was en route to Rome, Ocalan was forced to flee Europe and was kidnapped shortly afterwards in Kenya by Turkish agents. Although she became disillusioned with subsequent infighting in the PKK, Lesley continued to keep in touch with some of her former PKK contacts.
Lesley always ran an open house, was extremely generous to guests and always ready to help and accommodate waifs and strays, as well as visiting speakers and revolutionaries. She also loved animals, spent a small fortune on feeding cats and birds and made the field next to her cottage into a mini-nature reserve, which at one time housed a lost sheep and on another occasion a swan.
Lesley’s loving nature, dry wit and droll sense of humour , her intelligence and thoughtfulness, as well as her enthusiasm for history and her political principles, will be missed by all those whose lives she touched. Widowed while young, her love for her husband Trevor never diminished. Our thoughts are with her only son John.
‘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…The only trouble is, I don’t suppose they’ll let me come back to tell you ..!
’Lesley Kipling, ‘Luddites in My Life’ Huddersfield Local History Society Bulletin 1988 (See Below)
LUDDITES IN MY LIFE:
Some Reflections from Lesley Kipling
One way or another, a great deal of my life seems to be taken up by Luddites – talking about them, reading about them, think ing about them, writing about them. Even as I travel to and from work on the bus I regularly pass John Wood’s Croppirg 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 em 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 posssilbe.
So, on the occasions I am heckled I am quite prepared for this, indeed I expect it, and without sayirg 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. I n either case, I do try to discover the answer if it is posssible, 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 anticiipate 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 rooked 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 tre 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 avai lable 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 speak ing 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 srow: 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 phonirg with awkward questions like ‘What did the Ludditets doin 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’ Ludddite novel ‘Ben 0′ Bill’s’. This wonderful little book was becoming very scarce, end 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 0′ Bill’s’ for Christmas! Having said that the venture has been fun, and an interresting 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 0′ 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 publ ication 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, end 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!
BEN O’BILLS THE LUDDITE
By DFE Sykes & G.H.Walker
(an extract from the)
INTRODUCTION TO THE 1988 EDITION
By LESLEY KIPLING
Ben 0′ Bill’s is a minor novel by a little known novelist, yet it is one which should not be allowed to disappear into obscurity. Until now it has been diffcult to obtain, only found in the second-hand market and available copies were not always in the best of condition. Although credited jointly to DFE. Sykes and G.H. Walker, it must be regarded as Sykes’ novel. By the third edition, published by the Socialist ‘Worker Press’, the name of the co-author has disappeared.
Daniel Frederick Edward Sykes, LL.B., was a most unusual man. Born the son of a Hddersfield solicitor, he was educated at Huddersfield College, where he proved a brilliant scholar, winning both gold and silver medals. He took his LL.B at London University, and joined his father as a solicitor, and seemed set for an outstanding career.
I Iowever, his strong radicalism eventually led him into trouble. he was for three years a Huddersfield councillor, and started a newspaper ‘The Nothern Pioneer’, which ran from 1881-1883. This paper reflected his own radical views, and in panicular he supported the weavers in their great strike of 1883. Unfonunately when the strike colIapsed, so did his newspaper, and with his newspaper went his solicitor’s practice – n partly because he had sunk so many of his funds in the ‘Pioneer’, partly because many of his wealthier clients found his politics distasteful.
Bankrupt, he sank into obscurity and left the district, taking to drink at the same time. Later he returned, and became a keen temperance worker, though his career was never again a success. He died in 1920 aged 64 and is buried in Marsden churchyard.
His works of non-fiction include two histories of Huddersfield, the ‘History of the Colne Valley’ and the ‘Huegenot Ancestry of the Mallaieu’s of Saddleworth’. His four novels were ‘Ben 0′ Bill’s’, ‘Miriam’, Dorothy’s Choice’ and ‘Sister Gertrude’, and in his later days he hawked his books around Colne Valley, carrying the weekly penny instalments in a basket.
As a novel, one of its most important aspects is that it is ‘a good read’, probably the best novel ever written about the Luddites. Sykes has a lively style, and can build up suspense when required. The fact that he wrote the book in the local dialect makes the characters seem more real and alive. It also helps greatly in recreating the atmosphere of the period, making that too seem very real.
The Luddites in West Yorkshire:
A Teaching Pack (Kirklees MC), Peter Greenleaf and John Hargreaves.
I must first state that I welcome any material on the Luddites which increases general accessibility to sources and keeps the subject alive to argument. However, I do have reservations about Peter Greenleaf and John Hargreaves’ teaching pack, The Luddites in West Yorkshire. Whilst I would agree that they are correct in most of their assessment of the reasons for the risings, and -note that they even go so far as to mention the French Revolution as an influence, they miss the significance of other events! The attempted revolution in Ireland in 1798, when the French landed and fought alongside the Irish, and the serious mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797 within the Royal Navy, were both factors which go a long way towards explaining the extreme severity with which the government put down the Luddite rising. Greenleaf and Hargreaves may choose not to believe it, but the government of the day certainly recognised the possibility of a revolution when they saw one.
The authors seem to dismiss without serious consideration any possibility of a political element in the Luddite movement. But not only is there a distinct political, even revolutionary, element in Luddite correspondence, but also the fact that George Mellor, whilst held in York castle awaiting trial for his life, sent a letter, signed by the majority of his fellow Luddite prisoners, asking to have their names added to a petition for Parliamentary reform – definitively a positive political act! There is also evidence that some of the same names re-appear in Chartist circles and the like at a later date.
Whilst giving an impression that they hold to the traditional line taken by other historians that the Luddites were not of great significance as a working class movement, the authors do manage to sit remarkably squarely on the fence, leaving it to quotations from other authors to provide a firm view on all the more controversial issues. It would be nice to see them state a firm opinion based on the results of their own research somewhere along the line. I may not agree with other researchers’ conclusions, but I do feel that they should have some!
They do, however, use one very telling phrase which shows where their feelings lie; they speak of ‘other classes’ being involved in the ‘cover-up for the Horsfall murderers’. By this phrase they mean the witnesses for the defence. Somewhat begging the question, perhaps? They seem to be happily convinced that the real murderers were brought to justice, and dismiss too easily the nagging doubts brought up by a study of the documents in the case. They cling so closely to tradition that they cite Sykes and Peel as agreeing with the verdict, when they must be aware that neither of these two authors could have been in possession of all the facts at the time they wrote their accounts or they would never have been so firm in branding Benjamin Walker as the man who first broke the chain of secrecy.
As a final point, I would suggest that some of the questions and exercises they set for those ¸presumably school-children – who use this pack, would make excellent topics for a post-graduate thesis, but must be beyond the scope of even the most able GCSE candidate. Some are so deep as to be unanswerable without recourse to background material far more wide-ranging than that which is highlighted in this pack, if indeed they can be satisfactorily answered at all.
Old West Riding Vol. 8 No.1. (Summer 1988).