What’s Not To Like About the South-West’s Radical Tradition, Cy?

Kick back. Take a deep breath. It’s Q&A time. Welcome to the blog and Facebook page of Crooked Cat’s Cy Forrest answering questions from his studio in a rural village just south of Bath. His major new novel The Punished is due out on September 13. Join in the live online Facebook launch event.

What’s not to like about the South-West’s radical tradition, Cy?

Having lived in areas with great radical traditions: south Yorkshire, Manchester and Scotland, I wanted to find somewhere that had that same tradition. Manchester’s Peterloo and Derbyshire’s Kinder mass trespass, are brave, imaginative protests inspiring and important to my work.

In the south-west, I found that radical tradition alive and well and acknowledged in the six agricultural workers born in the village of Tolpuddle who were arrested and transported for forming a union.

“As the sun rose on 24th February 1834, Dorset farm labourer George Loveless set off to work, saying goodbye to his wife Betsy and their three children. They were not to meet alone again for three years, for as he left his cottage in the rural village of Tolpuddle, the 37-year-old was served with a warrant for his arrest.

Loveless and five fellow workers – his brother James, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and Thomas’s son John – were charged with having taken an illegal oath. But their real crime in the eyes of the establishment was to have formed a trade union to protest about their meagre pay of six shillings a week – the equivalent of 30p in today’s money and the third wage cut in as many years.” The Story of Tolpuddle

Every year, a festival takes place in Tolpuddle village that celebrates their success in campaigning for the right to join a union. The logo is a tree in the village. I think of it as an ideas tree from which I imagine George Loveless’s brilliant radical words sprang:

“Let every working man come forward unite firmly but peaceably together as the heart of one man. Then no longer would the interest millions be sacrificed for the gain of a few.”

I like that image of ‘the heart of one’.

The festival celebrates the south-west’s tradition for radical thinking and action that’s important to me and inspires my work in new directions. Nigel Costley is largely responsible. He describes reimagining the Tolpuddle Festival here, taking it from a sombre funereal event in the nineties, to the joyous celebration it is today.

Tony Benn said: “Tolpuddle is the place to come and recharge your batteries for the struggles to come.” Indeed, I was inspired by my visit to the Tolpuddle festival and previous visits to the beautiful village of Tolpuddle generally. I met Jeremy Corbyn for the first time. He’s deeply intelligent and sensitive. His ability to listen as well as speak about art and imagination changed the way I think about my own work and helped me. He said ignore the ‘impossiblists’.

To underline his commitment to a British arts renaissance, Corbyn read a John Clare poem. John Clare was a poet condemned as radical in his lifetime, for writing about the Enclosure Act that destroyed peoples’ livelihoods. He was, “The greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced.

But paths to freedom and to childhood dear
A board sticks up to notice ‘no road here’
And on the tree with ivy overhung
The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung
As tho’ the very birds should learn to know
When they go there they must no further go.

John Clare poems collected and discussed here by James Graham

Cy Forrest is the author of The Punished, due out Sept 13th and available for pre-order on Amazon now.