REVIEW : Yorkshire Rebel – the Life and Times of John Lindley 1770-1853 by Ron Riley (Blue Poppy Publishing Devon 2020).

The first limited edition of Ron Riley’s ‘Yorkshire Rebel’ appeared in 2013 , the year of the  50th Anniversary of E P Thompson’s seminal ‘Making of the English Working Class’, in which he set out to rescue early working class radicals from ‘the condescension of posterity’. The present revised, updated and new format edition was launched in 2020 to mark the bicentenary of the Yorkshire Radical uprising, which is the central theme of the book.  Ron Riley’s work is therefore very timely as he sets out to rescue one of those revolutionaries, not only from condescension but also from obscurity, vividly locating him in that time of profound economic, social and political changes which have become subsumed under the title of the Industrial Revolution.

The picture Ron Riley paints is in stark contrast to the Jane Austen view of the period.  He describes the trials and tribulations of working class life and work in careful detail, reconstructing conditions in the West Riding communities which shaped Lindley’s view of the world.  The reader can almost feel the heat of the nail-makers workshop where Lindley learned his trade.

The wider backdrop of movements and ideas is also clearly described, bringing to life the political ferment which influenced Lindley’s ideas and set him and hundreds of others on a course of action which could have proved fatal.  Although we have no record of Lindley’s personal thoughts, the milieu in which he circulated gives us some idea of what his concerns and ideals must have been.  Ron Riley again depicts this with precision – the mounting anticipation of the insurrection, the disillusionment of defeat and the anxiety of the treason trials.

Ron Riley also follows Lindley on the convict ship and into exile in Van Diemen’s Land showing that he was no ordinary convict, but a man with some standing and respect both in the community he left and, as his early return home testifies, the one he was transported to.

The immense changes during Lindley’s remaining lifetime are also brought into the picture.  ‘Yorkshire Rebel’ is not merely the story of one man, but an account of the working class in the West Riding as a whole.  Ron Riley has not been content to rest with John Lindley as a small twig on a family tree.  He has generated not only a rich foliage and colourful blossoms but also described the ecology in which John Lindley and other working class radicals flourished.  ‘Yorkshire Rebel’ is an important contribution to our working class heritage and a valuable reminder of the struggles for freedom which still have a resonance today.



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It has been a tough twelve months for bricks and mortar bookshops so I would love to think that potential readers would like to put orders their way. If you want to read the book but money is tight, you can also buy a paperback edition on Amazon for a bit less than the hardcover. £19.99 for the hardcover and £15.99 for the paperback.

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