Historians are adept at piecing together the past through careful study of a range of sources. Students of the notorious ‘Barrow Academic Riots’ of 1890 should therefore welcome the opportunity to compare the first hand account of Betty Troutgob (published previously) with the journal entry of the Reverend Doctor Jeremiah Flange made at around the same time.
12 December 1890 - Morning
‘Poked. Poked at. Poked at with a stick!’ As I sat in the drawing room of the mayoral suite and held the hysterical hand of the shrieking Lady Mayoress I was reminded of my studies of the French Revolution and the tearful conclusion that attended that most tragic of queens, Marie Antoinette.
Is this to be the end, then? Hundreds of years of parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy and established church - brought low by the demented antics of a ragged army of pupil protestors, socialist scholars and NVQ (Level II) flash mob activists?
Are we now to experience the steady rumble of the tumbril across the cobbles of Rawlinson Street as a fresh cargo of local aristocrats are delivered to the foot of a guillotine hastily erected in Coronation Gardens? Are the hags and scolds of the borough planning to cackle and knit-one pearl-one as the heads of the Barrow bourgeoisie thud bloodily into the basket? WHAT MADNESS IS DESCENDING UPON US?
Sir Lupin Dobcross (Mayor of Barrow 1890-91) shared with me his views on the swine that had poked his wife with a stick. Perhaps not the solutions I myself would countenance (especially not the flaying and hanging) yet perfectly understandable if one could see for oneself the prostrate form of his good wife, the Lady Mayoress Jordan Dobcross, as she lay weeping and inconsolable, her features bearing witness to having indeed been poked by a stick.
I have been approached by a number of local dignitaries and political figures to ascertain my views on the calamity that has challenged the stability of our local democracy. What kind of town are we now living in when the gracious Mayor and his Lady Mayoress cannot travel by civic horse and cart to a local music hall without being subject to the worst excesses of the mob and to be poked at, with a stick?
‘They poked her with a stick, for the love of God!’ cried Alderman Ditch as I took further soundings of the local great and good in and around the closely guarded town hall. Dockery Glengarry, the Town Clerk, was no less enraged. ‘A stick, Flange! They poked the Lady Mayoress with a stick!’ Councillor Bunty Cowell wept openly and demanded retribution no less severe than that favoured by the Mayor himself in that flaying followed by hanging would hardly be recompense for poking the good lady of a civic dignitary with a stick.
Later, I spoke with Chief Constable Beria and attempted to piece together the details of the major security lapse that ended with the poking of our most gracious Lady Mayoress. With a stick.
Beria assured me that whilst the poking was indeed unfortunate the life of the Lady Mayoress was never in danger. ‘I can’t inform you of all our operational details, Flange, but suffice to say, some of the filthy young radicals were barely seconds away from causing Constable Montgomery to discharge his weapon into their midst.’
Montgomery is the 92 year old retired Argyll Highlander retained by the local council as security consultant and, when required, as front-line enforcer of a cordon-sanitaire around key civic figures and their high-level guests to the town. This added a whole new dimension to events: not only have we seen the 156th Lady Mayoress of the borough poked at with a stick but we appear to have been no less than a hairs-breadth away from witnessing Constable Montgomery unleash the fearsome power of his blunderbuss. Certainly not something that I would wish to take full in the face at close quarters.
12 December 1890 - Afternoon
After lunch with Clarissa, she was gracious enough to accompany me to the Widdecombe Correctional Facility for Wayward Youth where those rascals apprehended for poking the Lady Mayoress, with a stick, are being held prior to trial.
It would offer a glimmer of hope to record that these juvenile communards were prepared to perhaps show some remorse for poking the Lady Mayoress with a stick. No such pangs of guilt were evident. Their apparent ring-leader, a rather loud young girl with mad eyes and unkempt hair (Betty Troutgob, I believe her name to be) declared that, given the opportunity, she would do no less than poke the Lady Mayoress with a stick again. Only this time, harder, and with a bigger stick.
First Eliza, now the youth of the town, there is something about our modern times that fills me with foreboding. Are we descending into some madness of radical uprisings as the full force of the national economic calamity becomes apparent? Is poking at the 156th Lady Mayoress of Barrow but a portent of deeper political depths that we will be forced to traverse?
As I escorted Clarissa back to her family home, the ragged urchins on street corners croaked their way through unusual arrangements ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.’ Sensing the gloom that had enveloped me, Clarissa gave me a soothing tug and declared how she wished, very much, that it could indeed ‘be Christmas every day.’ I did my best to convey my general agreement with her sentiments yet reminded her that we live in times when the youth of the borough feel no shame in openly poking the good ladies of those occupying the highest of civic offices. With a stick. Clarissa sighed and I detected a loosening of her tiny hand in mine as we made our way along Crossland Park.
Published: December 11, 2010
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