Monday, 4 April 2011
Morris among the Pinkneys
Did any of my family members, I wonder, ever hear William Morris at one of his innumerable socialist lectures up and down the country in the 1880s? There is a possibility – just a faint one – that my great-grandfather Mark Pinkney may have been in the audience when Morris addressed striking miners at Ryton Willows on 11 April 1887.
The day before Morris had travelled down from Glasgow to Newcastle. On the morning of the 11th he headed north to Horton in Northumberland, where he and other speakers addressed a huge crowd of between 6,000 and 10,000 people. Morris then returned to Newcastle and in the evening spoke again at Ryton Willows, ‘a piece of rough ground by the Tyneside under the bank by which the railway runs’, as he describes it in his Socialist Diary. And, he continues, ‘we had a very fair meeting there of most attentive persons’.
Now Ryton Willows is only some three miles from High Spen, the colliery village where my grandfather Henry Pinkney grew up and later, working as a miner, raised his own family; my Uncle Harry used to recall his boyhood there fondly in later years. So the geography works nicely, but does the chronology hold up? Grandad himself was born in 1894, so it is a question of whether his father Mark Pinkney, who was also a miner and would have been in his early twenties when Morris spoke at Ryton Willows in 1887, might have attended that event.
I can’t be sure. My great-grandmother Mary Pinkney is buried in High Spen, but I suspect that my great-grandparents in 1887 were living further to the south in County Durham (their third child, my Grandad, was born in Wingate seven years later). Still, no matter; next time I revisit our old family mining haunts in High Spen I shall think of Morris speaking to striking miners at Ryton Willows just up the road, and that will be almost as good as my great-grandfather actually having been there!