Blidworth Meadows, Autumn 2023. Picture Source: Paul Fillingham.
This quiet meadow presents a sharp contrast to the convenience stores, food outlets and busy traffic flow of the colliery village. In this setting, it’s easy to imagine a time when Blidworth was a rural community. However, it’s wise to avoid the romantic vision of a quaint country village, as Robin Hood’s Blidworth has a reputation for rebellion and dissent.
In the early 19th Century, the area witnessed violence from so-called ‘Luddite’ frame-wreckers, who rallied around a mythical, Robin Hood-like figure called Ned Ludd, from Mapperley in Nottingham.
‘The Leader of the Luddites’ (Ned Ludd), wearing a woman’s bonnet and dress, in front of a burning building as rioting frame-wreckers clash with the local Yeomanry. Satirical etching, published by E. Walker and Sons (1812).
The Luddites objected to the arrival of modern knitting frames that were moved out of Nottingham’s Mills to impoverished labourers in outlying villages like Blidworth. At the time of the Luddite uprising in 1810, there were over 36 knitting frames in the village. The term ‘Luddite’ is still used today and refers to someone who strongly opposed to technological change.
Whilst Blidworth has experienced several periods of social change, its villagers have earned themselves a reputation for resistance
Cover art for the 2016 reprint of James Prior’s Forest Folk. Inspired by the digital literacy project Dawn of the Unread and supported by UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature and Spokesman Press. Picture Source: Thinkamigo and Artypes Halo.
About the novel
Forest Folk is a historical novel by James Prior, set in Nottinghamshire during the Napoleonic Wars and the Luddite riots. It tells the story of Arthur Skrene, a young man who inherits a farm in Blidworth, and his encounters with the local people, especially the Rideout family.
The novel explores the contrast between the upper and lower classes, rural and urban cultures, and the old and new ways of life. It also features a romance between Arthur and Nell, a spirited and witty horsewoman. The novel is rich in dialect, humour, and description of the Nottinghamshire countryside.
In one chapter, Prior describes an ambush by Luddites on The Old Rufford Road to the east of the village (now the A614). Whilst his character Tant Rideout, expresses a deep yearning for the freedom of ancient forests and hunting grounds, that existed before the area was divided into farmsteads.
Reading from James Prior’s Forest Folk [To be added] in which Blidworth’s Tant Rideout, alarmed by creeping industrialisation and the transformation of local woodland to agriculture, sides with Luddites from Mansfield, Sutton in Ashfield, and Arnold.
About the time of the opening of our story the breaking of machinery by the so-called Luddites began at Nottingham, and had quickly spread to neighbouring counties. In that town, more soldiers were quartered than had ever before been found necessary to keep order in an English borough.
Large rewards were offered both by the corporation and the government for testimony against the malefactors, but no check was put to their proceedings. Many of the affrighted manufacturers began to remove their machines to out-of-the-way villages, to Blidworth among others; but the spoiler followed them thither.
At Blidworth, to the common dislike of new things and the imported hatred of the condemned machinery was added a local dissatisfaction with the parochial enclosure act, which was giving to the plough more than two thousand acres of common land.
The restricted sportsman and loafer, the village politician so easily displeased, the small freeholder who put a higher value on his rights of common than the commissioners’ award did, joined voices, sometimes touched hands and exchanged drinks at the ale-house with the more dangerous schemer from Mansfield, Sutton-in-Ashfield or Arnold. No doubt in almost every case it was but a midnight sympathy repented of or forgotten the next morning, but with Tant Rideout it was otherwise.
An ill-satisfied commoner, somewhat of a politician, more of a poacher and loafer, he touched discontent at so many points. The voice of battle was in the air filling it with its far-off nearness, and he was a born fighter. It was hardly likely when throughout the land men were either throwing up their caps for victory after victory over-seas, or else hatching intestine broils, that he should remain content with dancing jigs and snaring rabbits, or even with an occasional victory in the ring over some ignoble competitor. He often regretted, aloud of course, the not distant days when many a herd of deer – fallow or red, roamed the forest and the price of a man’s life was set upon their illicit destruction. He was hooked too, strange as it may seem, by his sentimental side. Though he disliked the drudgery of the farm, he loved the brown and green and grey of the country, the smell of gorse, broom and ling, the play and the contention of the weather, while he contemned the town and the prison clank of its new-fangled iron labourer. All these smouldering combustibles needed but the waft of chance to bring them to a blazing activity; and it was hardly likely they would want it.
One or two acts of machine-breaking had already been committed in the neighbourhood of Blidworth, one or two had been frustrated by a timely garrisoning of the threatened workshops, more were apprehended. There was a general feeling of expectation, which was for the most part fear. A number of special constables were sworn in to assist Tom White, constable and baker, in maintaining the authority of the law. The newly enrolled members of the Mansfield troop of Yeomanry Cavalry and the Oxton Volunteers were ordered to be in readiness for immediate service. What more could be done? The Bow-street detective, then stationed at Nottingham, came and went away.
To Arthur Skrene, who like most well-to-do persons had a fine sense of legality and property, violence so destructive was abhorrent. He had joined the Yeomanry soon after his arrival, and as he had already gained some experience in a similar capacity in Kent, he was promoted to be sergeant. He set himself zealously to organize and drill the troopers of his own neighbourhood, and devised an effective system of intelligence, whereby on alarm given by night or day they might be summoned from their scattered dwellings and speedily mustered at a convenient rendezvous. He had the more leisure for this because about the beginning of February after a season of open weather a four weeks’ frost set in; the black earth was shut to the plough and there was no hunting.
Walk down the hill to the end of the meadow then turn left at the bollards. Follow the track around to the children’s play area which will appear on your right.