Welcome back to our Document of the Month feature, showcasing some of the awesome documents in our collections.

This month we are going back to one of our oldest pamphlets:

Bullets for Bread! The Featherstone Massacre – We would rather be shot down than hungered to death

This pamphlet reports on several occasions when troops attacked organised workers in the late nineteenth century, referring e.g. to Dragoons in Bristol slashing and lancing civilians in 1892. The following year, events near a Yorkshire colliery became known as the Featherstone Massacre when troops with fixed bayonets charged and fired into crowds of workers.

Although undated, the contents of the pamphlet implies that it was written not long after the events and thus we estimate it to have been published in the mid- to late 1890s.

Aside from containing information on the events at Featherstone and elsewhere, the pamphlet exemplifies the role of the army and its reputation in late-Victorian society. The pre-WWI British Army had been a comparably small organisation of professional soldiers, often deployed in the colonies and in Britain to uphold “law and order”. Its rank and file were not only mistrusted by the ruling classes (i.e. also by their own officers), but also by the working classes, given that the army had been time and again been called upon to brutally repress industrial action.*

The document also shows how some crowd control tactics used in the late nineteenth century remain popular to this day:

“It is a maxim with experienced magistrates, police and military officers, that if there is not a riot you can always make one. The recipe is simple: set the police to bludgeon a peaceful crowd; or order the soldiers to charge them with the bayonet.”

Regarding the physical document, the paper used to print this 120 odd years ago has crumbled rather badly. Indeed, one of the reasons why we decided to digitise this a few years back was to minimise the number of occasions we would have to handle the document itself. In general the state of documents in our collections does however not so much depend on their age, but rather on materials and printing techniques used at the time, as well as subsequent storage conditions. Having worked with loads of different documents from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, one thing that has been at the back of our minds for some time is that there is definitely some fascinating research to be done on the subject of changing trends regarding used materials and printing technology and how these provides direct and indirect evidence on the history of radical publishing.

However, given that we already have far too little time on our hands, that is another project that needs to be put on our ever growing “Well, that would be rather interesting…” list. But maybe one of you would be up for this…?

See also: Document of the Month – January 2017

You can find more information and links to this and thousands of other documents in our Digital Library.

*For details on this please see e.g. a digital pamphlet by People’s Histreh: 103 Foresters… Issue 2, pp4-7