A FASCINATING insight into the history of Yorkshire slavery was launched in the improbable setting of Fixby Hall yesterday.
The glorious Georgian, ivy-clad, arcadian building was where Tory radical Richard Oastler lived from 1821 until 1833.
Slavery in Yorkshire is a new book which contains essays explaining the campaign against child labour and the brave men who supported Oastler.
The book is edited by Dr John Hargreaves and Hilary Haigh, both Visiting Research Fellows in History at the University of Huddersfield .
Other historians who contributed chapters and who spoke yesterday are Ted Royle, John Halstead, Colin Dews and Janette Martin.
Introducing the event, Prof Tim Thornton, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) at Huddersfield University, said the book helpfully explained: “The interconnectedness of the economies and cultures of slavery on both sides of the Atlantic; the importance of religious faith, and especially of Wesleyan Methodism and of New Connexion Methodism in shaping responses to human exploitation; the dynamics of the factory movement, especially in Huddersfield itself, the mechanisms of the campaign Oastler so successfully waged.”
Dr Janette Martin gave an entertaining account of Oastler’s victorious re-emergence into public life following his return from prison where he had been incarcerated for more than three years on account of his imprisonment for debt.
This was politically motivated and brought by his former employer, Thomas Thornhill.
Huddersfield, on the day of his return, February 19, 1844, did not have a railway station so he travelled by train to Brighouse instead.
The crowds were rapturous and were estimated at between 12,000 and 15,000 people.
She said he was a noted orator, renowned for his fiery, charismatic speeches but despite the cheering populace he carefully modulated his speech with no reference to the emotive term of ‘Yorkshire slavery’.
“Oastler is best remembered as an orator, over 6ft tall, his voice was stentorian in its power.
“Oastler didn’t disappoint his supporters. He played the part of a wronged king who had returned. He said his liberation was God’s will. It was a deeply religious speech.”
She said his speech struck a chord across the nation and reported in newspapers as far away as Birmingham and Aberdeen.
However, on the day given the limitations of the time, “it was estimated that only 10 per cent of the population could hear what he was saying.”
Dr Martin added: “It was described as a Red Letter day in Huddersfield’s history that was passed down the generations.”
The book is available at £20 from www.store.hud.ac.uk
He was born in Leeds in 1789 and died in 1861.
He became a steward of the Thornhill Estates, centred on Fixby, after training as a barrister.
He was regarded as a great reformer and fought to protect working children with the Factory Act 1847.
He led campaigns against the Poor Law and championed factory reform.
He is buried in Leeds churchyard.