New Year Dérive

In the quiet, dark days in between Christmas and New Year, an unruly mob gathered at the top of Dawley High Street ready for a 6 mile walk along the Heritage Trail.

In Rebecca Solnit’s “Field Guide to Getting Lost”, she starts with a quote from Meno:

“That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost”

So in order to discover the new, we need to lose ourselves in uncertainty and mystery.

We were invited to imagine the thoughts of those men, women and children who set out in February of 1821, and lose ourselves in the landscape they experienced that day.


Some of the landscape would be quite similar to what we see now, but most of it would have been totally different.  This landscape is not always as it seems: created only by natural processes.  The pit mounds along the journey were created by the hard labour of the Cinderloo protesters and their descendants during the last 200 years.


At that time, people faced poverty and brutally tough working conditions, they had few freedoms. And since the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, the Government had imposed the Six Acts which tightened repression even further.  We were reminded that as we numbered over 50 (including several dogs) this size of crowd, gathering without magistrate permission, would have been breaking the law in 1821.   The protesters knew they had broken the law, and once they began plugging boilers and damaging machinery, they knew they faced severe, potentially capital punishment.  Theirs was a desperate struggle.

In December 2018, we were led off down Dawley High Street by Jarvis the pit pony driven by Gary Powell.   Its probably a few decades since a horse and cart made this journey.


Expertly guided by local historian and ex-miner, Malcolm Peel, we encountered many different fragments of historic industries and human impact on the landscape.  Much of the land, where railways, canals and collieries were sited, has been naturalised, such as the pools at Hinksay and Little Dawley.  In following the tracks that the protesters marched, we understood a little more about their journey.


After an enthralling 4 hours of conversations with friends old and new, we returned to the Elephant and Castle. Whereupon, the Riot Act proclamation was read out by John Ellis to the crowd eager for refreshment, and Tony, in full yeomanry uniform, was at hand to keep the mob under control.


Activities were recorded on film and photography by Jill Impey, Andrew Howe and several others.


For those hardy folk remaining, there was some collage making and creative writing for a zine – such “seditious” publications were also illegal in 1821.


There are a few examples below.  We would love to include more creative work in a zine to record these walks, so if anyone did not get a chance to make something on the day, but would like to contribute please get in contact by email.  Contributions could be collages, prose, poems, comments, observations, photographs or drawings that reflect your experience of the walk.


A huge thank you from Cinderloo1821 to all who came along and made it a memorable day!  We look forward to organising more events in 2019.  Happy New Year!

One thought on “New Year Dérive

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  1. A great event, lovely to meet so many people who care about recognising the social history etched into our local landscapes. Lessons from the past to connect communities to their surrounds and to each other.


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