A Weaver’s Web by Chris Pearce – an intriguing historical fiction that you will find difficult to put down.
Blurb: Handloom weaver Henry Wakefield, his wife Sarah and their five children live in abject poverty in the Manchester area of the UK in the early 19th century at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Henry hates the new factories and won’t let his family work in them. He clashes with Sarah, a factory agent, a local priest and reformers, and son Albert runs away. The family are evicted and move to Manchester but are even worse off, living in a cellar in a terrace and have another little mouth to feed.
Henry’s love of money overrides his hatred of factories and he starts one of his own, but it is beset with problems. The Wakefields eventually become quite wealthy, but Henry holds the purse strings and this has a devastating effect on the family. Albert is caught stealing and is transported to New South Wales. Her baby’s death, Albert’s unknown fate and society parties become too much for Sarah, who hears voices and is taken to the lunatic asylum. Son Benjamin falls in love with an orphan girl and they have a baby. Henry is furious.
Family members, including Sarah who has got out of the asylum and Albert who has returned to England unbeknown to Henry, have had enough and seek revenge.
Exciting excerpt from A Weaver’s Web:
Cavalry rushed about in all directions and hundreds of citizens were thrown to the ground. Most got up and continued their desperate attempts to scramble free. Henry was knocked to the ground trying to protect Sarah and the children as a horse rode over the top of them. He got up holding his shoulder, only to be knocked down again. People stumbled over him trying to get away. He thought he could hear Sarah screaming ‘Catherine’ several times, but he couldn’t see either of them. As he crawled along looking for them, his face covered in blood and dirt, he saw people staggering and limping, some supported by their families and friends. And he saw other folk lying motionless as frantic loved ones tried to help them. He got to his feet but everything spun. He tripped over belongings left behind and over a number of people crawling about. He went with the general flow of those nearby, calling out: ‘Have you seen my family,’ but they didn’t know him or where his family might be.
Then he realised he was going the opposite way to home. He stopped as hordes of people streamed past, many bloodied, running headlong for the open country and back to their towns and villages. He wanted to return to St Peter’s Field and search for Sarah and the children, but he was bumped and jostled by people shrieking and wailing, trying to get away as quickly as possible.
When he got near the field again, a constable on horseback stopped him. ‘You’re not allowed this way. The meeting’s finished. Go to your home.’ Groups of stragglers, some supporting injured friends, were still leaving.
‘But I’ve lost my wife and children,’ Henry said.
‘Where did you last see them?’
‘Somewhere over there.’ Henry pointed to a spot in front of where the yeomen had first entered the crowd. He grimaced and held his injured shoulder.
‘A lot of carnage in that area, including some constables and soldiers caught in the melee.’ He sat up higher on his horse. ‘I can see the relief committee doing all it can.’
Henry took a step forward, but the constable swung his horse around and blocked the way.
‘You can’t go in there,’ the constable said. ‘Where do you live?’
‘That way.’ Henry signalled across the field.
‘You’ll have to go round.’
‘I’m going this way,’ Henry said, defying orders, and walked towards the field.
The constable didn’t give chase. When Henry had gone about ten yards, the constable called out. ‘I hope you find them.’
Henry stopped and turned around. He looked at the constable and could see sorrow on his face. ‘Thank you,’ Henry said softly, without conviction.
What he saw when he reached the field made him shut his eyes. Maybe it was just a bad dream. He opened them again. Where the masses had stood and cheered just twenty minutes earlier now resembled a battlefield. The place was dotted with bodies, mangled, lying in the sun, while badly injured protesters and soldiers and constables were being tended to. Everywhere was strewn with hats and shoes, banners and sticks. Henry looked at some of the personal items, but didn’t recognise any as Sarah’s or the children’s. He glanced at the bodies. Surely not, he thought. Surely they got away. Or perhaps they were injured and in the hands of the relief committee. No sooner had he taken a few wobbly steps towards those who were helping the injured than a soldier came up to him on horseback.
‘What are you doing here? The meeting’s over. You must go home.’ The soldier made his horse raise its front legs in the air in a threatening manner.
‘I’ve come to see if …’
‘Go on, be off with you, or there’ll be trouble,’ the soldier said and went for him with his sabre.
Henry jumped clear just in time and back-peddled, slipping over. The soldier made menacing gestures with his sword and Henry got up and ran as best he could from the field, almost falling several more times.
He got home and opened the door, certain they would be inside. ‘Sarah,’ he called, puffing. There was no reply. He went upstairs, thinking they must have come home exhausted and be resting. They weren’t there either. Back downstairs, he could see the house hadn’t been touched since they went out that morning, so happy and full of hope. Though he knew no one was home, he called out again. ‘Sarah.’ About to break down in tears, he punched the wall instead, hurting his hand.
‘What are you doing, you silly man?’ someone said. It was a woman’s voice.
He swung round and saw Mrs Grimshaw standing in the doorway.
‘It’s Sarah and the children,’ he said trembling. ‘I think they’ve been trampled to death when the meeting broke up. They’re nowhere.’ He wiped his face with his sleeve.
‘What are you talking about?’ she said. ‘They’re at my house.’
Henry stood gaping at her, arms hanging limp by his sides. ‘Your house?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘I saw them coming home in a terrible state, all dirty and bruised, so I invited them in as I had water ready for a bath.’
He sighed and closed his eyes.
‘What’s wrong, Mr Wakefield? You look like you’re going to faint.’
‘I’ll be fine.’ He slowly opened his eyes. ‘But what about my wife and children?’
‘Nothing a bath and a good night’s sleep won’t fix. Have you got Catherine?’
‘No. Isn’t she with the others?’
‘Sarah thought she was with you.’
‘Oh no! I remember now. Sarah yelled out “Catherine, Catherine” and that was the last I heard or saw any of them. Oh no!’
‘You shouldn’t go to those meetings, Mr Wakefield.’ She was about to continue chiding him, but he ran out the door and across the street. She followed him.
He opened Mrs Grimshaw’s door and saw them sitting on stools around a tub of water in the middle of the room. ‘Sarah’ was all he could say.
She looked at him. ‘Where’s Catherine?’
‘I don’t know.’
She put her hands over her face.
‘I’ll go and find her.’ Henry noticed Sarah had blood on her dress.
‘She must be badly injured, or dead.’ Sarah wept. ‘She knows the way. She’d be back by now.’
‘She may be with the relief committee.’
Henry hurried outside and back to St Peter’s Field, but troops stopped him before he got there. ‘My daughter, Catherine,’ he pleaded, holding out his hand to indicate her height. ‘You’ve got to help me.’
He watched as one of them rode onto the field and spoke to one or two of the relief committee. The man then rode slowly back to Henry who looked away, fearing the worst.
‘I’m sorry, Sir,’ the soldier said.
He swallowed hard. ‘Pardon?’
‘No one’s seen her.’
‘Is she among the dead?’
‘I can’t tell you, Sir. They’re still tending the wounded.’
‘Let me see,’ Henry said. He tried to force his way past four or five soldiers on foot, but they pushed him back until they had him well clear of the area. ‘You despicable persons,’ he yelled at them, holding his shoulder. ‘May you rot in hell.’
They remained quiet and emotionless in a line to stop him going back to the field.
He headed home. Soldiers and constables still patrolled the streets. He passed a large group of young men making lots of noise outside a shop. They had an assortment of weapons not seen at St Peter’s Field: scythes, hatchets, pikels, mop-nails. A shopkeeper waved his fist at them. They were accusing him of being a special constable at the field – he displayed in his window a Radical flag evidently not his and thought to be seized in the commotion. Soldiers appeared from all directions, though this didn’t stop the mob attacking the shop. Henry understood their anger and wanted to help the lads but his body wouldn’t let him. He saw two more scuffles in the streets before he got home.
‘Henry, where is she?’ Sarah said, white-faced, as he came into Mrs Grimshaw’s without Catherine.
‘They don’t know,’ he said. He sat on the floor and leant on the wall. He covered his face.
‘She must be somewhere, whether she’s dead or alive, mustn’t she, Henry,’ Sarah said, raising her voice at the end. She burst out crying and was comforted by Mrs Grimshaw.
‘A soldier checked with the relief committee,’ he said. ‘She hasn’t been seen.’
‘We must pray for her,’ Sarah said. ‘Catherine, if you’re up there, if you can hear me, find Baby and take good care of her, won’t you.’ Tears rolled down her cheeks. ‘We’ll all be back together one day, I promise.’
They had a good wash and thanked Mrs Grimshaw before they went home. They ate a few mouthfuls of potato for supper. No one was hungry for any more. The children went to bed early. Henry made two more trips to the field, but troops were still ordering people away. Quite late there was a knock on the door.
‘That might be her now, or someone with news,’ Sarah said.
‘At this time of night? More likely they’re coming to arrest people for being at the meeting,’ Henry whispered. ‘Don’t make a noise and they’ll think we’re in bed or nobody lives here.’ He was about to blow out the candle.
‘Mr and Mrs Wakefield,’ a voice cried.
‘You’d better see who it is, Henry,’ Sarah said.
About the author:
Chris Pearce was born in Surrey, UK in 1952, and grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He worked as a public servant (federal and state) for 25 years and in the real world for 12.5 years. His inspiration for writing “A Weaver’s Web” was a postgraduate creative writing course he topped from 30 students in the mid 1990s. After targeting many literary agents, including one who compared his manuscript to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, he decided to publish it as an ebook. He also has a non-fiction book (print only), “Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett: Convict and Castaway”, which he plans to rework and publish as an ebook later in 2014. Chris lives with his wife in Brisbane, Australia
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H52SEEK