Exhibition opens hidden history of Pentrich revolution

Mayor of Belper Gary Spendlove and John Hardwick, chairman of Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution group.
Mayor of Belper Gary Spendlove and John Hardwick, chairman of Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution group.

Number 28 in Belper saw the opening of a new art exhibition last weekend, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the moment Britain’s ‘last revolution’ kicked off in Pentrich.

The show was organised by the Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution Group as a way to represent the 16 villages whose people joined an uprising which was covertly staged by government spies looking to suppress rebellion.

Some of the 45 artists with local connections who collaborated in the exhibition to tell the entire history of the Pentrich uprising.

Some of the 45 artists with local connections who collaborated in the exhibition to tell the entire history of the Pentrich uprising.

Curator Sylvia Mason said: “We started with an idea to have 16 pieces in the show, but we were inundated by artists who wanted to get involved.

“In the end, we had 46 works and were able to tell the entire story in pictures.”

On June 9, 1817, more than 300 men set out for Nottingham from villages on the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border.

They thought they were part of a movement to bring down an unjust and oppressive government, with similar actions planned across the Midlands and Yorkshire.

The exhibition will tour the region and is also available to view online.

The exhibition will tour the region and is also available to view online.

Motivated by poverty and hunger, with all efforts to gain a hearing suppressed, and having no vote, many saw an armed revolt as the only alternative.

The Pentrich party had no idea that rebel leaders had already been arrested and only a handful would take up arms in Huddersfield and Nottingham, and they were ambushed by troops soon after they started the journey.

Planning for the bicentenary has been an uprising in itself, with original plans for one event replaced by an extensive programme of heritage walks, digital projects, educational outreach and academic conferences.

Sylvia said: “It’s amazing how it’s taken off, and shows how important the revolution was. Because the whole thing was contrived by the government, then people were denied justice afterwards, it has been buried and nobody knows about it.

Number 28 was buzzing as the gathered crowd enjoyed the show.

Number 28 was buzzing as the gathered crowd enjoyed the show.

“It should be up there with the Peterloo massacre - Pentrich was a prelude to that, and the start of men gaining suffrage and workers’ rights. We’re dragging it back into history where it belongs.”

Word about this year’s events has even spread as far as Australia where 14 of the revolution’s ringleaders were exiled as convicts after a series of flawed trials.

Members of the heritage group are to travel down under later this year to stage walks in their memory, and one of their descendants has also contributed a painting to the exhibition.

Brianna Martin, 15, of New South Wales, drew on her fifth generation dual Derbyshire-Aboriginal heritage to depict the world that would have greeted the revolutionaries on arrival.

The show features techniques including oilpaint, acrylics, watercolours, crayon and digital media.

The show features techniques including oilpaint, acrylics, watercolours, crayon and digital media.

Mayor of Belper Gary Spendlove, who used to play piano in The Dog Inn where the conspirators met to plot the uprising, opened the exhibition.

He said: “This goes to show the rich, cultural heritage of the area. It’s a massive thing to happen right on our doorstep. The show had a great buzz and I’m very pleased for the organisers.

“I thought the artwork was outstanding, and very educational. It really enlightened me as to what was happening at that time, and made me aware of the cruelty and why so many felt so downtrodden.”

He added: “I was struck by just how many local families were involved. Only three people who joined the uprising were not related to any of the other families.

“It shows what can happen when a tight-knit community decides it’s going to stand up for itself.”

The exhibition will be at Number 28 until April 28, but the best opportunities to view the work will be at the Transition Belper meeting, 10am to 1pm, on Saturday, April 22; or the Freedom Feed ‘Em community meal on April 26.

The show will then move to Marehay and on to a short tour of libraries and museums across the two counties.

The heritage group also plan to produce a book of the exhibition and to feature the artworks in all materials for this year’s events. They are currently seeking sponsorship from local businesses and community groups to pay for framing the pictures.

All the images are available to view together with explanations of what they portray at www.pentrichrevolution.org.uk/events.

The Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution Group was awarded a grant of £66,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund earlier this year to support its year-long programme of commemorative activities.

These include a guided walk through South Wingfield on Friday June 9 and a celebration event on Saturday June 10, at South Wingfield Social Club, including a dramatic retelling of the story.

There will also be the opportunity to visit Wingfield Manor on the day.

On Sunday June 4, there will be a walk in period dress following the full length march towards Nottingham.

For full details, visit www.pentrichrevolution.org.uk.