Innocents To The Slaughter

By Helen Maskew

1838, a year after the Seddon union affair, Hudson and Lawes are on the case of illegal child labour and, even worse, baby-farming, among the mills and moorland of Bingley, Yorkshire.

As always, Ambrose endeavoured to look the part he should be playing. In this case it was more difficult because he would not be travelling directly to his ultimate destination, but instead diverting to Suffolk where, undoubtedly, he would find it necessary to socialise with old friends and acquaintances – but only for a short time if he had his way. Not an unpleasant task, but being the single-minded man he was it would be for him an unnecessary digression, apart from reacquainting himself with his friends Peter and William, and Ted Lake who had been on the ‘right’ side and instrumental later in reforming the running of Seddon workhouse.

He gathered together a good supply of workman’s clothing and two pairs of stout boots. Unlike his time as an inmate of the House, it was not necessary for him to look completely down on his luck. As a working man seeking new employment he could present himself as well set-up according to his station. Neither did he have to go through the painful process of losing weight to look half-starved. Indeed, it was necessary that he build up some muscle if he was to be a credible labourer. He realised how out of condition he was as the result of his sedentary trade as a writer, although his height and build was such that he could never be considered fat – perhaps softer. He took steps to tone up, but limited time meant he would have to keep up his exercises until he arrived in Bingley. Perhaps, while he was in Suffolk he could get some riding in if Edgar would lend him the ambling mare. But he had to start the physical process immediately and so he asked his landlady whether she had any physical jobs she needed doing.

‘What about these logs, Mrs. Bridie? They must need splitting,’ and he pointed out the large pile which was delivered to Mrs. Bridie fortnightly and lay mounting up in the back-yard.

‘Young Thomas comes to do that, Mr. Hudson. I couldn’t possibly put him out of a job. He needs the money.’

‘What if I was to pay him what he would have earned, plus a small bonus for inconvenience, and tell him to take the time off?’

‘I’m sure he wouldn’t argue with that Mr. Hudson,’ laughed his landlady.

 The lad didn’t argue and went off to find paid occupation elsewhere for the two weeks. Now they were both happy; the boy was well in pocket and swinging the large axe twice daily did wonders for Ambrose’s physique – even in a couple of weeks.

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