Published in Sofia – the magazine of Sea of Faith – Easter 2015
William Blake mused if Jerusalem could have been ‘builded’ here among the dark satanic mills and Hubert Parry set these sentiments to music to create a hymn still popular today. Later in the poem Blake looked forward to a time when we would have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land. Presumably he was thinking of Revelation 21 verse 2 where it says, ‘And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’ In his poem, ‘Jerusalem’, Blake wrote ‘And fair Jerusalem his Bride: Among the little meadows green’. Many saw a ‘new Jerusalem’ symbolically represent the advent of a just and peaceful age. At the end of the 18th century Blake’s beloved London still had many rural settings within it with pretty villages like Chelsea and Highgate. It may be that Blake inadvertently planted in peoples’ minds an image of Britain’s greenery and dreamy spires being a potential earthly paradise. However, it would seem that, contrary to most peoples’ assumptions, it was the dark satanic mills that would ultimately hold the keys to paradise rather than a green and pleasant land.
Thirty years after Blake penned this, Loveless and ‘Others’ were in court, accused by ‘Regina’ of forming a ‘friendly society’ and, worse than that, swearing an oath. They were all loyal sons of the soil working in the Dorset ‘green and pleasant’ but were transported to Australia, basically, for daring to suggest fair wages. They did not serve their full sentence due to 800,000 people signing a petition and a march taking place in London. A Dorset vicar had labeled George Loveless a ‘strife maker’ and ‘peace breaker’ and called him that ‘wicked man’. George replied that he and his church were indifferent and hypocritical. The vast majority of the protesters must have been employed in the dark satanic mills for there to have been such a large number.
Tolpuddle was not a one off outrage. For years leading up to the Tolpuddle trial, farm workers were harassed for protesting about lower wages and mechanization, some being executed. The Wroughton labourers in Wiltshire were so angry they smoked their pipes in the churchyard. It sounds a very strange protest but at the time the Church of England was financially linked to the government and ostensibly in tandem with it. The aggrieved Wroughton labourers lived in abject fear of their masters. They resided in tied cottages and one whiff of revolt or insubordination and they and their families would have been evicted, left homeless, penniless and unsupported. No doubt lighting up in the church yard was a coded message of discontent.
In 1848, twelve years after the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Church of England introduced a new hymn which had the lines;
‘The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.’
In hindsight we now know the perilous position of the man at the gate and the arrogant contempt the castle owner had for him.
The fragile justice, fairness and equality we enjoy in many parts of the world today did not begin in a rural landscape where sheep may safely graze. It actually had its roots as a practical reality in factories. The first factories were far from dark and satanic as many were sited in beautiful wooded valleys due to the fact that they needed a stream to power the water wheel. Ironically many of them are now shopping outlets and tourist attractions due to the beauty of their surroundings.
Derbyshire claims its Arkwright water powered spinning mills were the world’s first factories. Most of his employees were children and he granted them an annual holiday as long as they did not leave the village. So Arkwright may have started the factories but he did not start the road to an earthly paradise. That honour went to Matthew Boulton and James Watt and the group who belonged to Birmingham’s Lunar Society. At the end of the 18th Century it attracted philosophers, inventors and entrepreneurs anxious to make sense of the changes afoot with burgeoning industrialisation.
The club included Charles Darwin’s physician grandfather, Erasmus, Josiah Wedgewood a relative of Erasmus and renowned potter, James Watt, the inventor, fresh down from Glasgow in search of kindred spirits and scientist and philosopher Joseph Priestly. Its pivot was Matthew Boulton and the meetings were often in his house. Needless to say members came and went but all deep thinkers and dynamic and most were avowed abolitionists. Sadly in the modern world there are an estimated 30,000,000 slaves in the world, half of whom are in India and around the world 5,500,000 children are slaves. The ‘Lunarticks’, as they called themselves, must be spinning in their graves.
Among their concerns and deliberations was a fair, just and equitable society. Religiously most of the members were dissenters of some sort. Joseph Priestly was a noted Unitarian who eventually left for the USA due to persecution. There were also Quakers and other non-conformists and members whose inventiveness and philosophy was more important to them than their religious affiliation. Benjamin Franklin became a friend and visitor when he was in in the country.
Matthew Boulton, with the aid of James Watt opened a factory to make steam engines that had a personnel management plan, sickness benefits, a welfare system for the workers and an overall atmosphere of care and concern. Most factories built afterwards modelled themselves on Soho Foundry but many omitted the welfare aspect and so the rest of the 19th century saw a titanic parliamentary struggle between those who wanted to get women and children out of dangerous occupations and back breaking drudgery, introduce realistic working hours, protect workers, set up workable inspections and those who did not see a need as each reform ate into profits and was believed to make the country poorer.
The reason dark satanic mills were the catalyst for a better society was that they caused large numbers of people to gather together for the first time. Farm workers were scattered and sparse and could not congregate easily to discuss and air their grievances. Factories suddenly had large numbers of aggrieved people working together. People who were underpaid, overworked, exploited, and susceptible to exposed danger, cheated and in their tiny, begrudged meal breaks they would talk to each other and complain about the injustice they suffered. From this came the Chartists.
The mills and mines of the north of England, the Midlands and South Wales saw the fermentation of this movement, starting four years after the Tolpuddle farm workers were transported. It lasted twenty years up to 1858 and attracted millions of workers to sign their petitions seeking one man – one vote, access to parliament as MP’s for the poor as well as the rich, paid MP’s for the same reason, secret, uninhibited ballots, equal constituencies and regular elections. The duration of the parliamentary struggle is evidenced in that while factories started to be built in the latter half of the18th century it was 1871 before Trade Unions were legalised, exactly one hundred years after Arkwright’s mill in Derbyshire was opened. Commentators believe, despite many Factory Reform Acts in Parliament, it was the 1878 act that was finally inspected effectively to ensure compliance. 1870 saw the act that basically got all children in school. Thus, it was a century from the first factories to effective reforms having a widespread influence in society generally.
The Chartist struggled for some time against most Christian churches and chapels due to the idea that meddling in politics and the business of commerce and manufacture was not becoming of a spiritual life. The nonconformists were generally eventually won round to the idea that Christianity could be practical and Jesus might have been shocked at the practices evolved across much of industrial Britain. The Church of England, on the other hand, did not take kindly to the chartist call to separate church from state and so most working men, as George Loveless discovered, were seen by them trouble makers upsetting a status quo they cherished.
Objections to reform centred on various arguments. Paying the workers more and giving them shorter hours would just lead to increased drunkenness and it was better for children to work than wander the streets in idleness (seemingly never occurred to them to open schools). Despite this, reformers ploughed ahead and change did, very slowly, occur.
Legalising trade unions was not benevolence, it was bowing to pressure after a century of illegal efforts to represent workers’ rights. Efforts that saw draconian punishments for those exposed in their endeavours. Sadly justice, fairness and equality are not evolutionary. They have to be fought over, argued about and introduced slowly. Once established they remain fragile and vulnerable. Evidence today how many reputable and international companies ‘outsource’ to third world countries. That would be wonderful if the rights and protection enjoyed here were extended to these workers but it clearly is not. Possibly more people currently die or are injured working in third world clothing workshops than in traditionally dangerous occupations such as mining and construction. Buildings collapse or catch fire without emergency provision, training or means of escape or the merest hint of concern from anyone in authority. To increase profits western employers and their shareholders appear more than willing to perpetuate a dark satanic hell if it is sufficiently far away.
In 1920 Shoghi Effendi, the great grandson of the founder of the Baha’i Faith visited Manchester. He was studying at Oxford and made several visits to the fledgling Baha’i community in Manchester. One of its stalwarts, John Craven, took the twenty three year old Shoghi Effendi on a tour of the linotype works where he was employed. I can only assume that John Craven was immensely proud of his place of employment as it epitomised all the hard won industrial reforms that made it orderly, fair and just. A year later Shoghi Effendi, at twenty four years old found himself head of the Baha’i Faith with the title ‘Guardian’. Central to His great grandfather’s teachings were justice, equality, honesty, trustworthiness and fairness in all that was enacted by Baha’is. Shoghi Effendi set himself the task of bringing those principles into reality in the Baha’i community through its ‘administration,’ central to which was freely elected assemblies and, for every individual, a right to be heard.
Ultimately if these principles can imbue the practices of the governments and employers of the world then, indeed, Jerusalem will be builded here and the practicality of this process took its first faltering steps in dark satanic mills.