The Luddites’ War on Industry: a story of machine smashing and spies

An article from Do or Die Issue 6. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 65-71.

‘Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood, His feats I but little admire, I will sing the achievements of General Ludd, Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire’

This article started off as a review but soon turned into some sort of synopsis arising from the reading of two books, both written by radical ecologists.

‘Rebels Against the Future’ by KirkPatrick Sale, published in 1995. This is the most recent in depth book on the subject and it’s written in an exciting, but well sourced way. Like the best novels you can’t wait to turn the pages.

John Zerzan’s two essays, ‘Who Killed Ned Ludd?’ and ‘Industrialisation and Domestication’ are dryer but his analysis is sharp. They were first published in book form in 1988.

In fifteen months at the beginning of the second decade of the last [nineteenth] century a movement of craft workers and their supporters declared war on the then emerging industrial society.

The movement spread across the Northern counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire , Cheshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It smashed thousands of machines, looted markets, burned down factories and spread hope of a way out of the bleak future being offered the majority of the British people. It was a movement that, in the words of the late radical historian E.P. Thompson; ‘in sheer insurrectionary fury has rarely been more widespread in English History,”.

It is important to understand the birth of Industrialism. If we are to successfully dismantle the present system, it is essential to know how – and why- it was constructed.

The Birth of the New Society & the Destruction of the Old

The elites that built up Industry had been growing in power, and the ideas and technologies that allowed them to grow had been festering for centuries. Its conception may have been long before, but its birth was a sudden calamity that accelerated change in society at an unprecedented rate. The Industrial Revolution, from roughly 1780 to 1830, mutated everything. It altered the way the majority of people lived, first in Britain and now all over the world. Just as societies are being shaped all over the globe into one monoculture; so the life systems of the planet are also changing unrecognisably. The results of the society that was born in those 50 years will rebound through millions of years of evolutionary change. Norman Myers, a leading biodiversity scientist, has said:

“The impending upheaval in evolution’s course could rank as one of the greatest biological revolutions of paleontological time. In scale and significance, it could match the development of aerobic respiration, the emergence of flowering plants and the arrival of limbed animals. ” [1]

Change beyond imagination

But change has to burst forward somewhere, and it burst forward here in Britain.

Lancashire, say 1780:

“The workshop of the weaver was a rural cottage, from which when he tired of sedentary labour he could sally forth into his little garden, and with the spade or the hoe tend its culinary productions. The cotton wool which was to form his weft was picked clean by the fingers of his younger children, and the yarn was carded and spun by the older girls assisted by his wife, and the yarn was woven by himself assisted by his sons……”[2]

A family often had no single employer but hired its looms, supplied with the raw materials by businessmen who then marketed the finished products. Workers had a large amount of control over their own labour. They produced only enough to keep themselves comfortable and if the fancy took them they might not work for days. Even after the enclosures took away large amounts of common land they subsisted for a great percentage on what they grew in their gardens. Basically they shaped their work around their lives, rather than their lives around their work. These were a strong people.

Lancashire, say 1814:

“There are hundreds of factories in Manchester which are five or six stories high. At one side of each factory there is a great chimney which belches forth black smoke and indicates the presence of the powerful steam engines. The smoke from the chimneys forms a great cloud that can be seen for miles around the town. The houses have become black on account of the smoke. The river upon which Manchester stands is so tainted with colouring matter that the water resembles the contents of a dye-vat….To save wages mule Jennies have actually been built so that no less than 600 spindles can be operated by one adult and two children….In the large spinning mills machines of different kinds stand in rows like regiments in an army.” [3]

Insurrections and riots were so common throughout the preceding centuries that the English poor have been characterised as one of the greatest mobs of all time. The spectre of revolution in France and America left the English rich with the realisation that they were walking on a knife edge: or more accurately that of a guillotine.

The Lancashire Mills and the Devastation of the Colonies

Even at this early stage in the Industrial Society, capitalists defended their interests internationally. The British mills started processing a crop which up until then was a luxury imported from the Orient: Cotton. The creation of plantations meant the eviction of millions of small farmers all over the globe. A process of enclosure already carried out in Britain.

Just as the British factory owners had deliberately gone out to destroy the Lancashire outworkers, ‘In India, the British set about the deliberate destruction of the indigenous industry…. The British owned East India Company was able to exert coercive control over India’s handloom weavers, who rapidly lost their independence as producers and in many instances became waged workers employed on terms and conditions over which they had no control…..When the East India Company’s monopoly was abolished in 1813, Indian weaving was too debilitated to resist the flooding of the market with inferior products from the Lancashire mills…[This process was carried out all over the world and]…within the space of less than a hundred years, the Lancashire cotton industry had consigned to extinction countless native textile [production systems] whose techniques and designs had evolved over centuries ….

In the early 20th Century, Gandhi organised a boycott of British made cloth and championed the spinning wheel as a means of reviving the local economy. In public meetings he “would ask the people to take off their foreign clothing and put it on a heap. When all the hats, coats, shirts, trousers, underwear, socks and shoes had been heaped up high, Gandhi set a match to them”….The spinning wheel remains upon the Indian flag as a reminder of the traditional industries and markets that were consumed by the cotton industry.’ -from ‘Whose Common Future?’, The Ecologist, p28. Available from Dead Trees Distribution.

Enclosure had given the new ruling class greater control over the land but crafts people still constituted a major counter current to the prevailing order. They had to be domesticated.

Factories were not built simply because of technological innovations, but more as a project of social control to limit the power of the ‘poor’.

To break their spirit

In 1770, a writer envisioned a new plan for making the poor productive: The House of Terror, in which the inhabitants would be obliged to work for 14 hours a day and controlled by keeping them on a starvation diet. His idea was not that far ahead of its time; a generation later, the House of Terror was simply called a factory. Andrew Ure, one of the greatest proponents of Industry, wrote in 1835:
“If science was put to the service of capital, the recalcitrant worker’s docility would be assured”.

Factories meant regimented and unprecedented work hours, horrific pollution, dangerous working conditions, unsanitary living space with virulent diseases, early death, a starvation diet and a total lack of freedom. Nobody entered the factory system willingly. Men, war widows, young women and very often children, lived in a system one Yorkshire man described in 1830 as: “a state of slavery more horrid than … that hellish system – Colonial Slavery”.[4] These workers, who one doctor surveying Manchester in 1831 described as “a degenerate race – human beings stunted, enfeebled, and depraved”[4] , were the refugees of a destroyed society.

Just as small farmers had been pushed off their land by enclosure, so the crafts people were purposefully pushed from relative autonomy to a situation of dependence. Whole regions, thousands of communities were broken up and reorganised to suit the wishes of the factory owners. Much of the populace were thrown aside to starve, or forced to become wage slaves in factories literally modelled after prisons. Cities and misery multiplied.

Petitions were handed to parliament, meetings and rallies were held but nothing came of it. With nobody to turn to but themselves, the weavers took direct action.

The Birth of Luddism

“The night of November 4th, a Monday, was cloudy but still not winter-cold. In the little village of Bulwell, some four miles north of Nottingham, a small band gathered somewhere in the darkness and … blackened their faces or pulled up scarves across their faces, counted off in military style, hoisted their various weapons- hammers, axes, pistols, “swords, firelocks, and other offensive weapons” (as one report had it)- and marched in more or less soldierly fashion to their destination. Outside the house that was most likely the home of a master weaver named Hollingsworth they posted a guard to make sure no neighbours interfered with their work, suddenly forced their way inside through shutters or doors, and destroyed half a dozen frames…. Reassembling at some designated spot, the little band responded in turn to a list of numbers called out, and when each man had accounted for himself a pistol was fired and they disbanded, heading home.

A week later, this time on a Sunday night, the workers attacked again: same procedure, same target, only this time Hollingsworth was ready. In preparation for a renewed attack, he had sent some of his frames to Nottingham for storage and had arranged for seven or eight of his workers and neighbours to stand watch with muskets over the seven frames remaining.When the attackers approached the house they demanded that Hollingsworth let them in or surrender his frames, and when he refused a shot rang out and a fusillade of eighteen or twenty shots was exchanged.

One young man, a weaver from the nearby village named John Westley was shot – while “tearing down the window shutters to obtain entrance by force” … before he died he “had just time to exclaim ‘Proceed, my brave fellows, I die with a willing heart!’. His comrades bore the body to the edge of a nearby wood and then returned “with a fury irresistible by the force opposed to them” and broke down the door while the family and the guards escaped by the back door.

They then smashed the frames and apparently some of the furniture, and set fire to the house, which was a gutted ruin within an hour; the men dispersed into the night, never identified, never caught.

That same night just a few miles away in Kimberly, another group of men raided a shop and destroyed ten or twelve frames…

On Tuesday a cart carrying eight or nine looms to safety from the Maltby and Brewwet firm in Sutton, fifteen miles north of Nottingham, was stopped … and men with their faces blackened smashed its cargo with heavy hammers, bent the metal parts to uselessness, and made a bonfire of the wooden pieces in the middle of the street.

That evening a thousand men descended on Sutton from nearby villages, assembling at a milestone on the main road to the north, and marched on the town with their axes and pikes and hammers; about three hundred of them were said to be armed with muskets and pistols. The number of machines they broke is given as somewhere between thirty-seven and seventy, said to be “the frames of the principal weavers” of the town, one of whom, named Betts, whose shop was completely destroyed, was reported to have died soon after, “deranged.”[5]

Luddism had begun.

An Outrageous Spirit of Tumult & Riot

With weavers’ taverns acting as rallying points, news spread from village to village. Inspired by the success of the first actions, communities all over the North started to act. At least a hundred frames were attacked in the last week of November, another hundred and fifty or more in December.

“There is an outrageous spirit of tumult and riot,” the magistrates of Nottingham told the public in November 1811. “Houses are broken into by armed men, many stocking frames are destroyed, the lives of opposers are threatened, arms are seized, haystacks are fired, and private property destroyed.”[6]

The spirit of rebellion rapidly spread across the Northern counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Posters were pinned up on the doors of offending workshops, warning them to concede to the demands of ‘Ned Ludd’s Army’ or suffer the consequences. For many businessman the threat worked as well as the act.

Most luddite literature makes reference to ‘General Ludd’ but there was no such leader. Instead it was a reference to a (conceivably true) folktale of the time. The story goes that a Nottingham lad at the end of the previous century had been enraged with his loom and had set his hammer to it.

Machine destruction had been a tactic of the weavers and their kind since at least midway through the previous century. What was different about the Luddites was exactly the opposite of how many imagine them. Read many accounts, especially those written by supporters of the trade unions, and the Luddites come across as mindless and disorganised, who if born a few centuries later would probably be kicking in bus shelters. True, Luddism was not the act of pre-organised political groups. However it was often much more powerful; a defensive reaction of communities under threat.

The blackfaced figures marching over fields towards the hated factory had probably known each other since they were kids. They had played at similar ‘games’ (maybe ‘hunting the French’) as gangs of children. They had been brought up with stories of struggle, in which the actors were as often as not their parents, grandparents or ‘im down the pub’.

Though actions in nearby villages would often be done at the same time to stretch the soldiers, there is no evidence to suggest that there was any serious co-ordination across the counties. But such co-ordination was probably unnecessary and dangerous.

Many Luddite attacks included women (although unsurprisingly this was not the norm). On the 24th April 1812, a very successful attack was carried out on a mill outside Bolton only an hour or so after the soldiers sent to protect it had left.

‘About fifty assembled near the mill…[descending on it]… they smashed through the gates and started to break windows in the mill, led by two young women, Mary Molyneux, 19, and her sister Lydia, 15, who were seen, according to court papers, “with Muck Hooks and coal Picks in their hands breaking the windows of the building”… shouting “Now Lads” to encourage the men on. With the windows broken, men took straw from the stables and set a series of fires inside: “The whole of the Building,” wrote the Annual Register correspondent, “with its valuable machinery, cambrics, &c, were entirely destroyed. “‘[8]

The spirit of revolt spread well beyond the confines of the textile workers. Riots broke out in many towns and food was redistributed. The whole of the north-west was verging on insurrection.

Hangmen, Prison Ships, Spies and Battalions: The State fights back

‘Those villains, the weavers, are all grown refractory,
Asking some succour for charity’s sake-
So hang them in clusters round each Manufactory,
That will at once put an end to mistake.

Men are more easily made than machinery-
Stockings fetch better prices than lives-
Gibbets in Sherwood will heighten the scenery,
Showing how Commerce, how Liberty thrives!

Some folks for certain have thought it was shocking,
When Famine appeals, and when Poverty groans,
That life should be valued at less than a stocking,
And breaking of frames lead to breaking of bones.

If it should prove so, I trust, by this token,
(And who will refuse to partake in the hope?)
That the frames of the fools may be first to be broken,
Who, when asked for a remedy, send down a rope.’ [9]

– Byron

Battalions of soldiers were sent to the North. But with the eyes and ears of the community protecting them, the Luddites were often one step ahead. No intelligence system in the world is better than the collective solidarity of a community. Byron joyfully summed it up:

“Such marchings and countermarchings! From Nottingham to Bulwell, from Bulwell to Banford, from Banford to Mansfield! And when at length detachments arrived at their destination, in all “the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war,” they came just in time to witness what had been done, and ascertain the escape of the perpetrators, to collect …. the fragments of broken frames, and return to their quarters amidst the derision of old women and the hootings of children.'” [7]

The state dramatically raised the stakes. Frame breaking itself was punishable only(?) by 14 years transportation to Australia. On March 5th 1812, a bill was passed to make the breaking of machines an offence punishable by death. (See ‘Love and Machinery’.)

With the normal means of suppression failing the state organised an army of occupation in the north-west. More and more soldiers were sent. By May 1812 there were 14,400, including thousands of cavalry men and full artillery units. Three months before, the Home Secretary had admitted that the force sent to crush the Luddite rebellion in Nottinghamshire was the largest ever used in the history of the country. But as of the 1st May, an army seven times as large was operating in the ‘Luddite Triangle’. The scale of the presence was such that one out of every seventy people in the counties was a soldier. There were a thousand soldiers stationed in Huddersfield, a town of only ten thousand.

NOT a good day for Goodair

John Goodair had a factory in Stockport, Cheshire, the size of a city block with eight thousand spindles and two hundred looms. On April the 14th 1812 a mob of two to three thousand (in a parish of only fifteen thousand) descended on his mill and mansion after smashing the windows of other industrialists’ houses. At noon, led by two men dressed as women who proclaimed they were ‘General Ludd’s wives’, the crowd stormed his mansion. The following is part of a letter written by his wife.

“Everything, I have since learnt, was consumed by the fire, and nothing left but the shell. The mob next proceeded to the factory, where they broke the windows, destroyed the looms, and cut all the work which was in progress; and having finished this mischief, they repeated the three cheers which they gave on seeing the flames first from our dwelling. It is now nine o’clock at night, and I learn the mob are more outrageous than ever…” (?)

Love or Machinery

The Bill to make frame breaking a capital offence was unopposed in the House of Lords. Save the romantic poet Byron, whose close friend (also a great poet) Percy Shelley set up a fund for Luddite orphans. Largely in reaction to Luddism his wife, Mary Shelley, wrote ‘Frankenstein’, still the most eloquent and beautiful treatise against the machine. Interestingly her parents were William Godwin, one of the founders of anarchism, and Mary Wolfenscraft, the founder of feminism.

In a further historical twist, Byron left his first wife and his daughter was brought up to hate the values he stood for, nature and love; growing up instead to be obsessed with machinery and mathematics. Working with Babbage, inventor of the first computer, she founded programming. In honour, the US nuclear missile control computer is named after her.

On top of the army were the voluntary militia, an early version of the Territorial Army. It had around twenty thousand in the affected area. On top of them the magistrates had a small amount of constables. On top of these were the ‘special constables’.

“By May it was said, Bolton had 400 special constables making rounds every night, usually armed; Salford, a suburb of Manchester, had 1,500 (10% of the male population); Manchester itself had 4,000; and Nottingham had around 1,000.” [10]

Armed municipal watch brigades roamed many towns; as did manufacturer-organised goon squads.

Professional spies were brought in, informers paid. Generous bribes for information (in what was for many a famine) were posted up. Communities, for the most, stayed strong. Surprisingly few turned traitor. However, many in the movement were scared into the inactivity. Luddite attacks on frames decreased. But this wasn’t solely because of the state. Trye, the towns were awash with soldiers, but there weren’t that many frames left to smash. Luddism changed form.

The Death of Luddism

To attempt to repeat the actions of the previous months would have been mad. Those luddites still active (a considerable number) changed tactics. Understanding that the rich had quite literally declared war, Ned Ludd’s Army began to arm itself. Luddite gangs roamed through the counties gathering, by force, guns from any source they could.

” [John Lloyd a government agent], told the Home Office that ‘bodies of a hundred and upwards … have entered houses night after night and made seizures of arms’ … Vice-Lieutenant Wood the same month reported that there had been ‘some hundreds of cases’ … leading him to fear it would all end ‘in open rebellion against the government of the country …’ A Parliamentary Committee reported in July ‘considerable’ theft of guns and ammunitions in most towns, and in Huddersfield of ‘all of the arms’ … ‘every article of lead’, wrote a correspondent from the West Riding, ‘such as pumps, water spouts is constantly disappearing to be converted into bullets.’ ” [11]

According to one Luddite letter:

“He [General Ludd] wishes me to state that though his troops here are not at present making any movement that is not for want of force – as the organisation is quite strong in Yorkshire – but that they are at present only devising the best means for the grand attack.” [12]

The turn to openly revolutionary strategy must have put many Luddites off, who instead set their hopes once again on reformism. If a regional insurrection with little communication with the rest of Britain was unlikely to defeat the Manufactures, how much more likely was it that they would kneel before petitions to Parliament?

Although unions were technically illegal under the Combination Acts, courts often held them to be legal. Many voices within the establishment saw the unions as a way to pacify the workers. When you’re talking, you’re not fighting. The unions themselves (then as now) told the workers to stay away from sabotage, and to negotiate with the factory owners rather than fight the system itself. In Zerzan’s words:

“Unionism played the critical role in [Luddism’s] … defeat, through the divisions, confusion, and deflection of energies the unions engineered.” [13]

Less than a decade later, in 1825, the unions were officially recognised by the repeal of the Combination Acts – a measure supported by the majority of the British state.

The insurrection never came and Luddism slowly died, not with a grand finale but more with the actors leaving the stage one by one.The final event that can be accurately named Luddite came in June 1817. A state infiltrator named ‘Oliver’ convinced two hundred people from Pentrich, Derbyshire, to march out and join “a cloud of men” sweeping down from Scotland & Yorkshire on their way to London. Instead they were met by two mounted magistrates and a company of soldiers. Forty six were arrested, three of which were executed, fourteen transported to Australia and nine imprisoned.

Luddism was the last fitful struggle before, like a broken in horse, the English poor lay down, resigned to wage slavery. The meagre struggles that followed rarely aimed at reclaiming peoples’ lives from work; but merely getting a better deal for the slaves.

The poor started to identify themselves more and more with the idea of work, abhorrent only 50 years before. Concepts like the ‘dignity of labour’ and ‘laziness is sin’ multiplied. As Leopold Roc put it, “There is always a tendency to rationalise insults when revenge does not take place.” The strange belief spread that technologies created to bolster obedience and elite power were ‘neutral’ – and could exist in a free world – in fact were the key. The idea that we should organise our lives around work was the very opposite of what the Luddites stood for.

The workers’ internalisation of industrial logic would be more disastrous than any army the manufacturers could muster. Even when the ‘workers’ movement seized power, its aim became to run industrialism itself. Revolutions came and went but to paraphrase the Anti-Election Alliance, ‘Whoever you deposed, the industrial system always got in.’ Party and trade union leaders easily made the transition to factory managers.

The internalisation of industrial logic by ‘liberation’ movements would lead to the ‘revolutionary collectivisation’ of the Soviet peasantry and its associated gulags, and many of the worst moments of the 20th Century. Whole generations were held both in slavery to industry and in awe of it.

The Rebirth of Luddism?

But many of us have begun, in recent years, to see industry for what is. To reject industrial logic and embrace our desires. Both Sale and Zerzan end on a positive note. Sale sees an upsurge in luddite like resistance in direct action/radical ecology, indigenous struggle and in many third world movements. Zerzan says that those who now reject ‘the new society’ have also rejected the old ideologies of the left.

The ‘new society’ worships all that is new. Buy new Ariel automatic. Buy new activist – fully body pierced for a limited period only. We are told by the media – the advance guard of the spectacle – to constantly change so that we can continue to be news. But nothing is truly new – with the exception of the scale and complexity of the problem. Our struggles are recent battles in an old war.

The spectacle attempts to destroy its real history and that of its opponents while creating a sanitised version of the past, which it can then sell back to consumers as a commodity. When we learn about OUR history, our ancestors, it is both inspiring and instructive. By looking at past conflicts we can learn more about our ‘new’ ones. By learning about the mistakes of the past we may avoid making them in the future.

As rebels, revolutionaries and romantics we are citizens of a future society we have yet to give birth to. Feeling out of place in this society, alienation is very painful. Much like realising that we are descended from apes, in fact are apes, gives us a feeling of innate connection with the rest of life. Walking the streets of Manchester or Leeds, knowing that you walk the same streets as machine-destroying, free-food distributing, prison-breaking crowds, gives one a feeling of being rooted.

Machine haters walk again in the Luddite Triangle, in fact some of our movement’s most dramatic moments have been there. The successful campaign in the early 90’s to stop peat extraction on Thorne Moors just outside Leeds, came to a close when saboteurs destroyed 100,000 worth of machinery. Two weeks later the company (Fisons) sold up. The Lancashire M65 campaign (see DoD 5) was a turning point in tree-based campaigns, and before the A30 Fairmile eviction was the longest eviction in British history.

Early this year the Director of Manchester Airport and newly elected Labour MP Graham ‘Two Sheds’ Stringer spluttered that the anti-airport activists were ‘just Luddites’. The one thousand hectares of land that he wants to destroy lies in Cheshire – one of the bastions of the original ‘luddite mobs’. As small groups, ‘with scarves to cover their faces’, ‘march out from strong communities’, to ‘pull down fences and destroy machinery’, Stringer would do well to remember what happened the last time someone poured scorn on the Luddites who roamed Cheshire.

As we dance with the ghosts of our political ancestors our struggle for life and our struggle to live illuminates a future world.

“Down with all kings but King Ludd!”
References and footnotes

* [1] Norman Myers, ‘A Winnowing For Tomorrow’s World’, the Guardian, London, 24.4.92.
* [2] Quoted in ‘Rebels Against the Future’, by Kirkpatrick Sale, London 1995, p 25
* [3] Ibid
* [4] Ibid
* [5] Ibid, p71
* [6] Ibid p79
* [7] Ibid p97
* [8] Ibid p143
* [9] London Morning Chronicle, March 2nd 1812
* [10] Rebels Against the Future,p 149
* [11] Ibid 161
* [12] Ibid p151
* [13] Elements of Refusal, p149
* (?) Rebels Against the Future, p132

This article first appeared in issue 6 (1997) of Do Or Die: Voices from the Ecological Resistance, a periodical associated with movements such as Earth First! and anti-roads campaigns from 1992 to 2003. The editorial collective of Do Or Die puts no restriction on non-commercial use of material from their publications.

Protesting Manchester Airport’s second runway

An article from Do or Die Issue 6. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 82-86.

Life on the Battle Star: A Personal Account

This interview was gently extracted from a war-torn activist three days after the eviction of the last tree at Flywood camp at Manchester Airport. There were still tunnel systems being occupied, and other tree houses have gone up since. This follows one person’s experience of one of the most successfully defended tree houses from the beginning to the end of the Battle Star Galactica.

Good evening from Captain Battlestar, who is totally nameless and will put on a silly accent throughout this interview.

The Campaign Builds

Could you give us the background to the campaign?

The second runway had been on the cards for 25 years. After the public enquiry finished in 1994 Earth First! types joined up with activists from the Green Party and Friends of the Earth, forming the RunWay Coalition. We had meetings but it didn’t start to escalate until ’96.

In May ’96 we all walked the route of the runway. 20 of us went up to where Flywood would be a year later, and took photos of what turned out to be my tree. We went down through the willows and everything was so wild we had to slash a path through the undergrowth and into the meadow. We just thought Wow, it was totally awesome. We realised the main way to get people involved was to get them to experience the place. More & more walks were done with more and more people.

One night in late ’96 I got a phone call saying that the decision whether or not to build it would be announced the next day. We thought, shit we haven’t got anything ready, no tree houses rigged up. Their security were already patrolling the sites looking for protesters. So a couple of us decided to go for it. We tatted some tarps and some ply wood and joists and planned a night mission to move in. We had rekied the site in disguise as dog walkers with barber jackets and found the most strategic point. That then became Flywood. At 7pm on Saturday the advance party of 5 climbers ran across the road carrying polyprop and climbing gear and disappeared off into the woods. An hour later the tat van turned up and managed to crash through the gates, unload and get 30 people on site, all without being spotted. We managed to set up a ground camp with a tree house 70 foot up all between 7 p.m. to 7 am.

The next morning, sitting in the bow of my tree watching the birds play, I saw a police car pass without even noticing us. We had thought they were on the ball – so we took the camp the night before runway walk. At midday 100 people turned up. The first thing the police knew about our camp was on the 3 o’clock news. Lots turned up and the camp came together really fast after that.

The A30 camp was being evicted 2 days before we moved in so while they were going down we were going up. It was a really nice feeling. They could not stop us. A few weeks later the A30 refugees turned up en masse. It all came together so beautifully. Within a week we had another camp set up – Zion Tree – a 100 year old beech. We got many locals from North West moving there, many of them giving up their jobs.

Could you paint a picture of what type of ecology and landscape is being destroyed?

Most of the site was in the beautiful Bolin Valley. The woodland was called Hux Bank Wood which stretched from Zion Tree to Fly Wood down to River Rats. The whole valley was a grade A site of biological importance, just one down from a S.S.S.I. There are hundreds and hundreds of mature trees. The river meandering through the valley is to be encased in a massive concrete tube and, along with the rest of the valley, buried under rubble from a Derbyshire quarry. The whole thing is 4 million cubic metres- as large as the cutting at Twyford. The runway is around 300 hundred metres wide. All the woodland in that valley is to be completely annihilated, it is the removal of an entire landscape.

How many people from the surrounding communities were actively involved?

Virtually everybody there was from the North West, apart from the usual rent-a-mob, which was the beauty of it. We got a few from Wigan and surrounding towns. It’s not so much that there were so many locals involved but that they were new to protesting. They were defending their own land.

There was an established campaign in Mobley next door, a little town that will be right at the end of the proposed runway. One vet said after the decision was made he would start knitting a balaclava. During the eviction they organised that every Saturday they’d hold a vigil by the main gates. On the Saturday that the Battlestar came down there were 400 of them. One of the women from Mobley came up in the first week saying she was just a housewife but what could she do. After telling her there was no such thing she made a wish list which she took around the village. She collected tat every day in her vehicle and the villagers made up sealed eviction stashes with games and drinks and things. It was really amazing – they were thoroughly behind us.

We heard that ‘defencing’ often ended up quite full on?

The security started putting up fences between the camps with razor wire. You could lose your finger on it. We started resisting, they started arresting us. Soon the security started conniving with the police to help beat us so we pixied at night generally just snipping it and taking it back to camp for building material. Cliff Richard camp was mainly constructed out of the fence.

One night a large group went out to the fence and started to tear it down. Some people who were heading off down the valley looking for a lost child bumped into the police who were arriving to deal with the fence trashers. One copper got out of the car, pulled out his truncheon and just started attacking people, with no warning, laying into people with his baton; the result being broken knuckles from trying to block the blows, broken ribs, missing teeth, battered heads. The people acted in self defence. The police Land Rover ended up getting some of its lights and windows smashed in. As a result the police withdrew, the security withdrew and the fences were left unguarded, 100 metres was removed that night, flattened and destroyed.

On another night police starting laying into people and arrests were made for ‘violent disorder’, ‘riot’ which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, and ‘using a dangerous dog as a weapon’. One person who was rescued from the police had broken ribs. He was jumped on by cops waving their batons on the way to hospital. Inside the hospital they surrounding him saying “do you want some”, then they quick-cuffed & dragged him off. Some are on remand now but as usual the police’s statements are cocking up so they should be out soon.

Tell us about the tree house you lived in – BattleStar Galactica. What tactics did you use to actually keep your tree house pig-proof.

The logical process was: (A) get rid of the cherry picker. That was done with a system of tunnels strategically surrounding the trees making the ground unstable for heavy machinery on one side, and with a steep bank on the other side that was too high for the Cherry Pickers. (B) make it climber-proof – this was quite difficult, because the little bastards climb everywhere! However if you have a tree house wall which is six feet or more and the edge of it is covered in barbed wire, and grease, and razor fence, and there’s someone there who’s not going to let you over it, it is virtually impossible to climb round it. So that was the starting point: to make the scab-proof “battle” platform.

We lashed these big brackets onto the tree, built the frame, boarded it, and then we covered the top-side in razor fence, which meant that they couldn’t chain-saw or saw through it. There was a coil of barbed wire on the underside of the platform, on the top, and right round the edge, so that you couldn’t get hold of the thing. It was hideously difficult to get round it, even with no one on it, but of course with eight people running around on it, saying “No, you’re not coming up”, and being very strong and resisting them, basically they were stuffed. Then just to make it a little bit more fun, we decided to actually stop them being able to get up the trunk full-stop. So at a height of about twelve feet above the ground, we put coils of barbed wire, like you’d see on top of a prison. Then we thought, tree-surgeons with their spiky boots will just spike up it, but the only thing that can stop spikes is metal. So we got some corrugated sheet, and nailed that on the tree, then greased it just to make it even more unpleasant.

And then just to make it a little bit more unpleasant, I put another 10-15 feet of coiled barbed wire, this time vertically down the trunk, stapled on quite firmly, before I realised that I may have just put a set of hand-holds up the tree. So we stopped there and put another seven feet collar at the top, then greased that. The main thing with the collars is to make sure that they’re really thoroughly nailed on – you need to put a helluva lot of nails in, which people do not like doing to trees, unfortunately. But we decided that we’d rather kill one tree and save a wood than not do it and just inevitably lose. A gas bottle was hung amongst the coils of barbed wire, untethered so it was just sat there- a deterrent.

I had a sun-lounger on the top, for sitting in the sun and having breakfast on. And then came along two activists who pitched a ridge tent on top it. So there was a two man tent on top of a sun lounger on top of a razor wire covered tree house 65 foot up. This was ridiculous! That is when it became a proper shanty town.

How long were you up in the trees for?

Well I moved in and lived up there until I got taken out. The evictions started on the Tuesday and nine-days later they hit Flywood. Once we were under proper eviction it was three and a half days until me and #### were down.

The Eviction

Can you describe how the eviction started?

At 3.45am, an advance guard of Manchester cops bolt-cropper’d their way into Zion camp under the cover of aircraft noise – people heard them and went over to investigate. They were met by a large number of balaclava’d, riot-helmeted, baton-wielding men-in-black, who charged down a path after them. They beat the campaigners on the back of the head, and when they were either knocked to the ground or got on the ground, they sat on them and told them not to say a word. People up in Zion Tree couldn’t see what was happening, but knew something was. They shouted “Are you alright?”, and no one could reply coz they were gonna get their fucking heads kicked in.

Less than quarter of an hour later they hit Zion and Jimi Hendrix, which was where this journalist was – he was in a bender just before the main camp – they smacked him across the face and it split quite nastily – there was a lot of blood. It was a big mistake to start whacking HTV journalists across the face, because it just backs up the stories of violence against us.

Largely as a result they didn’t go into any of the camps in quite the same full-on manner. The original raiders, about ten people, went in there absolutely psyched to attack people. If ten anti-roads activists went piling into somewhere wearing ballies, wielding sticks, they’d all be done for riot, getting eight years each. The whole thing is totally one-sided and ridiculous.

What was the media pen?

Well they fenced us off relatively early on. When they did the Zion, Jimmy and Garlic evictions, journalists were taken to a bit of field by the airport and from there you could see very little. They were deliberately being kept away from good shots. This was part of the whole strategy of the eviction, which was to control and limit the number of people that could see what was going on. It is ironic in a way coz in terms of the state it was one of the safest and most non-violent evictions to date. So, as other people could tell you from Newbury, you’ve got a private eviction here, and they could quite easily have trashed us.

On the whole, there was no violent resistance. We didn’t need to, because the climbers moved so slowly. They weren’t interested in rushing. It took nine days to get through four tree camps, none of which in their own right were particularly difficult. They just went really slowly, and generally pretty carefully. Which doesn’t justify it at all, but it neutralises your anger.

When they came to the Battlestar they didn’t even attempt to climb up into it, but one of the first things they did was to ring bark it. They took out a section of bark about three or four inches right round, this kills the tree. I think it was done as a bit of a sick joke, to wind us all up. They saw us as a challenge, and it did shake us up. We lost our cool. Basically it was “bollocks” to fluffy – you start sawing into our tree, we’re gonna get a bit hardcore. In the end we all calmed down, but something that we’ll all remember is the moment when the chain saw guy took a 24 inch chain saw to our tree and we didn’t actually know what he’s was going to do with it. Imagine he said, “You’re not going to believe this!” and then started cutting into the tree, basically we thought that he was going to cut a wedge out of it. Or cut it in some seriously destabilising way to scare us off. If it had been a bluff it wouldn’t have worked because we’d all have stayed up no matter what.

Beyond Battlestar there were the twigs, and the branches at the very top. One of our crew, who’s a bit of a nutter, came up with an idea. He tied a set of hangman’s nooses to the very top of the branches, you could just about get to them but it was pretty dangerous. People from below wouldn’t be able to get to the nooses to cut them, and they wouldn’t be able to get a harness on the person in the noose and in theory they wouldn’t be able to pull you off because it would hang you. And it did work, as I found out! I did it. They did attempt to scare me, trying to get me to think they were gonna come and get me anyway. The boss climber, Richard Turner, reassured me that the branch the noose was tied to would snap like a carrot before it hanged me. This wasn’t very reassuring, coz if the branch snapped like a carrot I’d fall 50-60 feet to the ground and die. But in the end, either they decided to back down anyway, or they were bluffing- it was just too much for them. Most of the time I was in the noose and they were below me, I was in front of the Press Association and the BBC, saying, “Get the fucking camera to the other side of the bank, coz I’m about to die and I want it to be on telly!”

And how did they actually evict you in the end?

The Battlestar really worked- it delayed them and meant that they had to bring in a cherry picker rather than simply use climbers. They came up late on a Sunday after we’d been sitting down on the platform chilling out in the sun carving chess-pieces. I sussed what they were up to – that they were clearing trees to bring a cherry-picker in, and I saw that they were building a bridge. But I couldn’t really believe they were going to come in that late on a Sunday. Then we saw a bulldozer and Chief Climber Richard Turner said, “You’d better pack your bags. Are you coming down?”. It was late on a Sunday, all the Sheriff’s men had gone. There was no press, no cameras, the police evidence gatherers had gone. There were nine of us up there. So everybody apart from about two or three of us went down to the battle platform and sat with all the tat and got ready to resist. A cherry picker delivered bailiffs to the platform but it still took the state the best part of an hour to dismantle the three platforms, and throw everything out, and thoroughly smash everything up. One person went down with them which left eight of us up a bare tree, with no platforms. I had a hammock and a rucksack, but no one else had their stuff with them. However we’d managed to salvage most of the bedding, biscuits, chocolate, alcohol and a spliff – all the essentials!

Then the climbers went home, and wished us an uncomfortable night, and ++++ absailed out of the tree and got arrested – she didn’t want to stay. We had a bit of a meeting, and four of the remaining seven decided to try and build overnight an escape walkway system. It would have been quite amusing defending the tree for six days, causing them real grief, and then in the night just disappearing. They’d come back the next day to find an empty tree. I wasn’t into it at all, I was going to stay until the end, because that’s what I’d psyched myself up for over the last few months. But other people were really into the idea. So four tried, but unfortunately they believed a bailiff who promised them safe passage off the site. They came down and got nicked.

So they went, and that left three of us up there. At this stage in the eviction the climbers could have started using the battle platform as a staging point. So me and **** destroyed it. We slung a hammock up the top of a tree, put in loads of bedding and fell asleep. When the bailiffs came in the morning, they couldn’t believe we were all cozy, with food and alcohol cradled in the branches. With the entire tree so difficult to climb they realised they’d have to go off and get a cherry-picker. Every morning we took down the hammock – we wanted to hold out for at least seven days. **** came down without resisting; **** took the remaining bedding and food across neighbouring walkways to a sycamore tree.

When the cherry-pickers came, I took my harness off and waved it at them from the branches. I had my rucksack full of food and my hammock and climbed to the very top branch. I just kept climbing. The bailiff was saying, “The tree’s coming down today,” and I kept saying, “No, the tree’s not coming down today!”. He was going psychotic. Fortunately the cherry-pickers couldn’t reach me, and they knew they couldn’t reason with me not wanting to risk the thirty-foot drop with a noose round my neck. They decided to back off.

After a while they brought in a bulldozer to raise the level of the ground around the tree, after four hours the cherry-picker was back. With the extra couple of feet, they could reach us. So after much deliberation, I shot across the walkway to the sycamore, where I hoped they couldn’t reach me. But they could. I was totally fucked after all this. Traumatised. I don’t think I could go through that again. My energy was completely sapped, and therewas four in the cherrypicker basket so resistance was pretty mch futil. So I absailed it down.

Tell us about the Battlestar crew?

The original plan was to have about five people up there, but people kept coming up, wanting to join the Battlestar. So we built the sister-ship, the Pentagon, which was good coz it meant we had an extra tree defended, extra space and extra shit for the bailiffs to deal with. We had a really good crew: most of us knew each other, so we tended to get on pretty well. We had a similar approach in many ways, but diverse backgrounds. We had a teacher, some dole activists, some professional climbers, long-standing campaigners that had been to Newbury and so on. Most people, like me, hadn’t been in a tree eviction before. Basically it was one big happy family, with no stereotyped roles, sexism or whatever. We all grouped together for comfort, and gave each other strength. We made most decisions as a group, and got people to decide for themselves what they wanted to do. Since our eviction we all gone separate ways. We had all our different campaigns, so some went off to Lyminge, others to Sherwood Forest and so on.

To the Future

What message would you like to give to other campaigns?

Don’t put a noose round your neck unless you’re fucking insane! There’s a lot to be said for thinking, planning – rather than just throwing yourself into the first idea that comes to your head. Tactical thinking. Get to know the people and the area you’re working with. Make sure your house is big, so you can have plenty of food and supplies. Before you even start thinking about building, look at the terrain, the landscape, at other trees. If you’re the first there, it’s worth spending a week looking into how to deal with different types of eviction. Like in a clump of trees, where you can defend each other. Battlestar was at the hub of a group of four trees. Each of those had a Battlestar-type platform. So you can have a network of trees, all interconnected. The stronger the community, the more difficult it becomes for them to get you.

Another important issue to deal with on campaigns is the macho, lairy, male, aggressive brew-crew culture. At first there was no problem. There were as many women as men, and Flywood was the vegan camp, with a pretty sorted community. But later on, the percentage of men got higher, and things got rather alpha-male. Sorted people started leaving, and less experienced people started taking over. In the end there were only three people left at Flywood ground camp, and it became really lairy, scaring away locals. This puts people off getting involved. It has to be nipped in the bud.

Get On Down & Get Involved

This was one person’s story, but hundreds participated in the Manchester Airport evictions, up trees, down tunnels, and on the ground. More camps are being set up and as we go to print there is still someone in the tunnel system. You can be involved in the next stage of the camapign. This was just the beginning.

This article first appeared in issue 6 (1997) of Do Or Die: Voices from the Ecological Resistance, a periodical associated with movements such as Earth First! and anti-roads campaigns from 1992 to 2003. The editorial collective of Do Or Die puts no restriction on non-commercial use of material from their publications.