PERSONALITIES
 
John Hodgkins and John Millin.
"we didn't expect the woman to be so aggressive”

After two weeks without labour these two teenagers from Ramsden were hired and instructed to begin hoeing a certain field. 

As the lads neared the field gate they found awaiting them a crowd of about 40 women and girls. Whether this was a planned action or spontaneous we do not know.

 

It was suggested that some women sported sticks and used them to intimidate the lads but subsequently no proof of this could be produced, and the accepted scenario is that amongst jostling, joviality and suggestions the lads greatest threat came with the impromptu call to remove their trousers.

Robert Hambidge
1827 - 01/01/1892
Manager of Crown Farm
“ the men needed to understand I cannot afford to pay more…….I offered a rise for the fitter ones”

His workers were on the minimum wage of 10s a week. Unable to feed, clothe and support their families they asked for an increase to 14s and gave a week’s notice to strike. 

This was official procedure arising from the Liberal Government Act of 1871 making Unions and their activities legal except for the action of preventing anyone else from working. Of course this tied the strikers’ hands but perhaps someone in Ascott realised that it did not tie the hands of their wives and daughters who were not members of the Union.

After a couple of weeks without labour Robert Hambidge decided on action. He hired two teenagers, John Hodgkins and John Millin from Ramsden and on the 12th of May went off to Stow Fair leaving these lads with instructions to begin hoeing a certain field.

Joseph Arch
10/11/1826 - 12/02/1919
President - National Agricultural Labourers Union 1872

“it was the best thing that happened for our cause”

An English politician, born in Barford, Warwickshire he played a key role in unionising agricultural workers and in championing their welfare

Joseph Arch began his campaign in Wellesbourne in February 1872, to improve life and conditions for the agricultural labourer

In April 1872 Arch held the first meeting of what would become the Oxford District of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union on the Green at Milton and fifty men joined there and then. By the end of May over 500 men in the area, divided amongst 13 branches, had become members and amongst that number must have been labourers from Ascott.

Police Superintendent Lakin
“the riots meant I couldn’t put the woman on the train to Oxford”

The news spread like wildfire and in no time a mob of 2000 locals surrounded the police station where the women, two with young babies, awaited transport to Oxford Gaol.

Ugly scenes ensued, tiles were smashed, windows broken, but the strength of the new building proved it’s worth and although incidents occurred until late in the evening, by midnight the crowd had dispersed.

In the early hours of the morning the support urgently summoned by Police Superintendent Lakin and the Mayor, finally turned up in the form of constables and a large wagon into which the women were rapidly bundled without even time to adequately clothe the babies against the coldness of the night.

The Magistrates
“the law was clear and didn’t differentiate between men and woman”

The two magistrates who tried the case were the Rev. Thomas Harris of Swerford and the Rev. William Carter of Sarsden, the son in law of Lord Langston of Sarsden Estate.

Rev. Carter had already spent the years 1852-1868 as the Vicar of Shipton and may have had prior knowledge of the villagers of Ascott.

Six of the women were Baptists and one was a Methodist and their persuasion may well have further antagonised the Church of England J.P.s at a time when the swelling growth of non-conformists was a ripening source of irritation to the established church.

Hambidge demanding justice, pressured Harris into pronouncing the severest sentence possible under the law and although Carter was reluctant and agonised over the decision before finally concurring with his colleague, one woman was acquitted whilst nine more were sentenced to seven days in gaol and the other seven to ten days. To add insult to injury the sentence was to be served with hard labour.

Oxford Gaol
“we did our best for the woman, they were used to hard labour”

They arrived at Oxford Gaol at 6 o’clock in the morning, cold, questioning and probably terrified, but defiant. Hard labour consisted of washing and ironing, jobs to which they were well accustomed, but the two with babies were excused these chores and some milk was found for the infants.

However for these women who probably in the whole of their lives had hardly left homes, families and familiar territory, the ordeal must have been heartrending. In Ascott over a dozen children under ten were suddenly deprived of their mothers.

The women may have been sustained by the pride they felt in making a stand for an improvement in their life and living but those prison days must have seemed endless as their concern grew for their families back home.

 
 
Duke of Marlborough
"The warnings were there when the unions were formed

While the women served their sentence, matters did not stand still, Grumbles about the event grew by the hour, the national newspapers took up their cause, debates were held in parliament and the home secretary corresponded with the Duke of Marlborough who heartily endorsed the clergymen's action. Such behaviour by the lower class was beyond understanding and could not be condoned by the middle and upper classes.                                                                         

Queen Victoria
"How could any government be so cruel to the women and the babies

The news reached Queen Victoria whose unhappiness with her Liberal Government may well have prompted her feelings against the proceedings and she demanded that their hard labour must be rescinded and the women given a free and complete pardon.                                                                       

Benjamin Disraeli
"The Criminal Law Amendment Act should never had been passed

He played a central role in the creation of the modern Conservative Party, defining its policies and its broad outreach. Disraeli is remembered for his influential voice in world affairs, his political battles with the Liberal Party leader William Ewart Gladstone, and his one-nation conservatism or "Tory democracy". He made the Conservatives the party most identified with the glory and power of the British Empire. He is the only British Prime Minister of Jewish birth.