25 March 2021

Guest Post by H. D. Coulter, Author of Ropewalk: Rebellion. Love. Survival (The Ropewalk series Book 1)

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The North of England, 1831. The working class are gathering. Rebellion is stirring and the people are divided. Beatrice Lightfoot, a young woman, fighting her own personal rebellion, is looking for an opportunity to change her luck. When she gains the attention of the enigmatic Captain Hanley, who offers her a tantalising deal to attend the May Day Dance, she accepts unaware of the
true price of her own free will.

The Reformers and the right to vote. 

I would like to thank Tony Riches blog ‘The Writing Desk’ for allowing me to guest post on their site as I discuss the Reformers and the right to vote, an aspect of the historical novel ‘Ropewalk: Rebellion. Love. Survival.’

When I was researching the town Ulverston and the 50 years’ period of the towns industrial revolution. I discovered the plight of the workers and the social change they tried to bring about with the Reform Bill. It was these men and women who began to bring about change and made it possible today to vote and have our say in parliament. 

As a person who was born and raised in Cumbria and a proud Northerner, I saw the rebellious spirit of these people and unacknowledged change they created. During my research I first came across ‘Peterloo’ massacre in Manchester, which came to symbolise Tory callousness and tyranny. 1819 was a year filled with political rallies over industrial depression and high food prices. They were to demonstrate the massive feeling of discontent and the support of parliamentary reform. 

On August 16th 1819; 60,000 people attended, including women and children. It was a peaceful demonstration but because of the threat of the French revolution and the Napoleonic war, magistrates and judges became nervous over the gathering and had the Manchester yeomanry, 15th Hussars and the Cheshire Volunteers attack the crowd with sabres. Hundreds were injured and killed that day, leaving nothing changed. 

Since 1789, the government had been fearful of the workers and the power they were gaining. They created two new laws. ‘The Seditious Act’ in 1817. They created the law to forbid all meeting of over 50 people called to deliberate upon any grievance, in church or state. Under the act, it allowed the magistrates to attend any meeting and if found unlawful, the leaders and attendees were guilty of a felony without benefit of clergy and put to death. 

After the ‘Peterloo’ massacre, the government created the ‘Six Act’ enforcing and created 6 new laws. The Training Prevention Act; The Seizure of Arms Act; The Misdemeanours Act; The Seditious Act; The Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act; The Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act. All created to stem and curb the threat of another revolution. 

The only impact these new Acts created was to force the meeting to go into secret and form an underground rebellion. Families became desperate as the living conditions worsened and the only voice they had to represent the working class were the gentry based on the old system. The Reformers discussed how they could force change by strikes, riots and petitioning the government for support and the right to vote. 

When writing ‘Ropewalk.’ I imagined men from the mills and canal, who were once boys standing in St Peter’s field, were now men, risking their livelihood or even their lives to meet in secret to discuss how they were going to bring about change. I centred this point of view around Bob Lightfoot, the father of the main protagonist Beatrice and the secret life he had from his family. But nothing stays secret for long. 

     "Men: we have less than a month to plan our strike and to create the march across town. It is our time to show that their companies, their fortunes, cannot survive without us!" 

  The men shouted back in approval and banged their pewter tankards on the wooden tables.

  "For too long they have stood on our backs and made promises, only to break 'em. They have told us: better wages, better 'ouses, a right to be heard as shareholders in their doings – have we seen any 'o these things?" His passionate, educated voice rang out across welcoming ears.

  "NO!" the men shouted as one.

  "They have pulled men from our farms, and those farms now stand rotting, to the ground because there is no one to work them. Our women and children stand in the streets and beg for scraps because the labour they were promised is not there!"

  An unknown voice ascended over the crowd. “But what change will it make? I’ve heard all this before - Me and my kin hail from Manchester; we were working there eleven years ago. I stood in St Peter’s Field and heard these same words. That Hunt fella told us to stand up for our rights, to take down the government. But instead they took us down, in that field. Me brother was stabbed that day, standing next to me. His blood weren't the only one mixed in wi'th' mud!”

  “I hear you my friend – I myself was there alongside others in this room but that is why we must rise up, no matter the cost, to change the way o' things, so your sons never have to stand like thee, in the fields, and fight 'til the death for their bread and their hearths.”

  “My neighbour watched as his child, no mo' than four years, died in his mother’s arms starvin', because the mill owners have cut our wages again.”

  “We went on strike last year for seven weeks; I lost count of how many people died, and when the Yeomanry beat us, cut us down, forced us back to work, what did we have to show for it? Nothing, apart from new graves in the ground.”

  A cane banged against the floor, calling for its owner to be heard: “If Magistrate Forester should find us 'ere, an' discover our meetings, he could arrest us under ‘The Seditious Act’ and the ‘Sixth Act’; we are riskin' our necks tonight, just bein' here. They have hung men for lesser crimes!”

  “Aye, we are riskin’ our necks being here and so did the people around Manchester as they rose up. They petitioned the king, wrote to parliament, like we have done, and look what happened to them.” The head man pulled the men back with his reply.

  “That day, there were tens of thousands of us standing in St Peter’s field. We were peaceful, no weapons. All we wanted was a voice, to be heard, to stop the corrupt government from taxing our grain, and cutting our wages. And yes, they slaughtered us. Six-pound guns fired into the children. I reckon hundreds died that day, either in the field, or after, when their masters cast 'em out and blacklisted 'em. Men and women watched their families starve, just like we do today. Fear is what they use to frighten us back into our place. And so, they will always be the victors – until we refuse to run. I look at each man here, and I see clearly that the mill-owners, the landowners, the quarry-owners who control parliament: they have had their time. It is finally our moment, to reform this retched country, and give the power back to her people – so that no more children die in the arms of their mothers. Let them know we are in no doubt - we mean to take back our livelihoods. We the north, are the forgotten land – well I say no more!”

- Chapter 20, Ropewalk. Beatrice Lightfoot spying on the secret meeting. 

Within certain districts, the Reformers became traitors to the crown. Ring leaders gathered up and hung for organising the strikes and riots when the bill kept failing in parliament. It wasn’t until the Whig party became the new government in November 1831 after the year of unrest; the party put another bill forward. In 1832 they passed the Reform Act, which stated 1 in 5 men who leased their homes for £10 or more per year; got the vote. For the average working-class man working the mills, factories, or canal, they deemed this as a failure. However, it meant some trades people, middle class and business owners could vote, which meant change. More MPs in Industrial town, more MPS in parliament with new and fresh ideas, but most of all, they set a president for the path towards everyone able to vote. 

As a writer, I am drawn to social history and the how current events for my characters are affecting their lives in the local area. This aspect will feature in all my novels and in the Ropewalk series the need to be involved with social injustices will follow Beatrice Lightfoot as she tries to find her own path and right the wrongs of society. 

H D Coulter

Book 2, Saving Grace; Deception. Obsession. Redemption, now available for preorder.

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About the Author

Hayley Coulter was born and raised in the lake district and across Cumbria. From a young age, Hayley loved learning about history, visiting castles and discovering local stories from the past. Hayley and her partner lived in Ulverston for three years and spent her weekends walking along the Ropewalk and down by the old harbour. She became inspired by the spirit of the area and stories that had taken place along the historic streets. As a teacher, Hayley had loved the art of storytelling by studying drama and theatre. The power of the written word, how it can transport the reader to another world or even another time in history. But it wasn't until living in Ulverston did she discover a story worth telling. From that point, the characters became alive and she fell in love with the story. Find out more at Hayley's website https://hdcoulter.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @coulter_hd


  1. Thank you so much for hosting today's blog tour stop!

  2. A really interesting read - thank you!


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