By Christine Verguson

Huddersfield Local History Society and the University of Huddersfield present the ninth in a series of annual lectures focusing on aspects of the history of radicalism in the Huddersfield district, and beyond.

The 2023 Luddite Memorial Lecture will be given by Prof Nick Mansfield from the University of Central Lancashire who will be exploring the forgotten history of radicalism displayed by ex-servicemen and serving soldiers in the 19th century.

‘Both Sides of the Barricade: Soldiers & Ex-Servicemen in Early-Nineteenth Century Popular Politics’ will be held on Monday April 24 (7.30pm) at the Oastler building (OA4/2) at the University of Huddersfield.

Cyril Pearce, chair of Huddersfield Local History Society, said: “Prof Mansfield’s foray into this territory is very much in the spirit of this annual public lecture’s now well-established tradition.

“British popular attitudes to the army, especially the peace-time army, have always been deeply ambivalent and, on occasion, both fearful and hostile. Peterloo, Featherstone, Tonypandy and numerous other lethal confrontations with popular radicalism haven’t helped. 

“The rude soldiery even worried the Duke of Wellington who famously condemned those he commanded in the Peninsular War as the ‘scum of the earth’ who, he hoped, terrified the French as much as they terrified him.

“Almost a hundred years later Rudyard Kipling’s defence of ‘Tommy Atkins’ the average British soldier and the ‘Thin Red Line of ‘eroes’ touched on that persistent anxiety and its abiding ambivalence. That much is known but to have some of these much abused and neglected men move from service to Monarch and Nation to stand with their critics is less well known.”

Prior to moving to the University of Central Lancashire, Prof Mansfield spent many years working in museums including 21 as director of the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

While he has published a labour history of 19th century rank and file soldiers in two volumes (2016 and 2019 respectively), he says he first got interested in the subject more than 50 years ago.

He said: “I was struck with how many radical leaders of the period had ex-service backgrounds: Wilkes, Paine, Cobbett, Cartwright, Cochrane, Hunt and Bamford. Subsequent research confirmed this trend at the activist level.”

Prof Tim Thornton, the University of Huddersfield’s deputy vice-chancellor – himself a historian – will be introducing the lecture. He said: “The University of Huddersfield is delighted again to be supporting the Annual Luddite Memorial Lecture, as part of our successful partnership with Huddersfield Local History Society.

“As in previous years, we’re very pleased to be welcoming to Huddersfield a distinguished speaker, in Prof Nick Mansfield, and yet a further important perspective on the Luddites and their period, in an examination of the role of soldiers and ex-servicemen in popular politics.”

If you would like to find out more about what, until now, has been a largely forgotten part of radical history, the lecture is a free event and all are welcome to attend. No tickets are needed.