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Civil unrest at Leckhampton Hill – brought to life through research and poetry

​​Dr Angela France, Course Leader for the MA in Creative and Critical Writing, at the University of Gloucestershire, has investigated the little-known instance of civil unrest that took place in July 1902 at Leckhampton Hill, to the south of Cheltenham.

New quarry owner Henry Dale had built a cottage for his foreman, Cratchley, which blocked a right of way on Leckhampton Hill and filled in a pit where working people held a fair every Easter. Closing the hill to local people in this way − led to riots. The ringleaders, known as ‘The Leckhampton Stalwarts’, were working men, clay-diggers and labourers.

Dr France’s research included primary sources from Gloucestershire County Archives: letters, court records, legal documents, photographs and newspaper reports from 1902-1904, relating to the disputed rights of way and the riots that resulted.

Historical Photo of Men on Leckhampton Hill

One of the ringleaders was a road sweeper called William Sparrow, who wrote many letters to the Gloucestershire Echo. His letters were intelligent, witty, and furious.

William’s letter to the Echo, dated 22 July 1902, reads:

“A great deal of fustian and flapdoodle has been indulged in by the local press of the last week about mobs, hooligans, riots, the uneducated, disgraceful acts and so on. Well, if there have been any disgraceful acts, they have not been all on the side of the so-called ‘mob’ at any rate … the moral of the whole business seems to be that if you are going in for any tidly winking business do the thing in style. Don’t steal the goose from the common or you will get jail but steal the common from the goose and you will be let off without a stain on your character.” 

In 1927, Henry Dale’s quarry company went bankrupt and the Council bought the whole hill. It was designated as common land and is still open to all.

Leckhampton Hill Image with Footpaths Marked

Leckhampton Hill was already very well known to Dr France, who has walked it for fifty years. She was able to blend her own experience with the rich and layered human history of the place, and give voice to the local people who had worked and played on the hill. Dr France expressed her research findings through a collection of poetic works entitled ‘The Hill’. A live multi-media poetry show, book sales, talks, reviews and articles followed.

Dr France said:

“I am fascinated by Mythogeography, which is a way of exploring and thinking about a place – such as Leckhampton HillMy research has helped generate interest in this historic event and its location. I’ve also been able to bring poetry to listeners outside of traditional poetry audiences. My challenge with regard to ringleaders, such as William Sparrow, was to represent their voices through my work, without co-opting them, whilst linking to my contemporary experience of the hill.

“The resulting poetry is published in ‘The Hill’, which further developed my earlier poetry: ‘Hide’, ‘Lessons in Mallemaroking’ and ‘Occupation’. All four works generated invitations to read at festivals and reading series.”

​Dr France has an MA and a PhD from the University of Gloucestershire. Find out more about her work and watch a film of a live performance of ‘The Hill’ on Dr France’s website.