Striking miners protesting with union banners in the Old Market Square, Nottingham, 1984. Source: Alan Feeberry.
Originally published in 2012 as part of theSpace arts project funded by Arts Council England and the BBC
The Sillitoe Trail focusses on five locations from Alan Sillitoe’s ground-breaking novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) – the Old Market Square, The White Horse pub, the Raleigh Factory, the River Trent, and the Goose Fair. Each location is related to a particular theme and features Arthur Seaton – the defiant anti-hero at the centre of the narrative.
Suspicious of all forms of authority, Arthur Seaton is determined to live his life on his own terms. Project editor James Walker, discusses the Old Market Square and its role as a place for protest with commissioned writer, Christy Fearn.
The Market Square has been the centre of commerce and protest through the centuries and was selected as the first UK site by the Speakers’ Corner Trust on 22 February, 2008 due to the city’s long history of campaigns for individual freedom and social justice.
During the Luddite uprisings in 1811/12 the unemployed Stocking knitters demonstrated against the new frames; the machinery was putting them out of work and in those days it meant starvation.
Recently there was a small patch of the square taken up by the Occupy movement, claiming that this was public land and that they had the right to protest against various perceived injustices. We asked Christy Fearn – a Nottingham-based writer of historical fiction – what she thought Arthur Seaton would have made of the Occupy protesters.
Arthur Seaton’s personal credo – ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’- seems as pertinent as ever.
In Seaton’s time the enemy was easier to identify. It was the army trying to sign you up to fight their wars or the foreman in the factory breathing down your neck. But the ‘bastards’ of 2012 are more diffuse in nature, harder to define. There is more than one ideological frame that needs breaking.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a working class novel but that doesn’t mean that Arthur Seaton identifies with his own as a traditional socialist might prefer. In the factory, he refuses to drink out of the same tea urn as his fellow workers. For him, they’ve all been drugged by the same misguided aspirations: “some blokes ‘ud drink piss if it was handed to ‘em in china cups.” Never had it so good? He’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.
Seaton would probably not embrace the Occupy movement. If anything his political sentiments are more Thatcherite in that he, too, believes there is no such thing as society: “If I won the lottery, I’d only look after my own. I’d make bonfires out of the beggin letters.” This is why he has no qualms about having it off with married women because husbands fall into only two categories, “those that look after their wives, and those that were slow.” The slow deserve everything they get, and the only thing that will slow Seaton down is someone else trying to tell him to go faster, especially at work.
For this reason, it’s hard to imagine him having much affinity with the Occupy movement. It’s just another form of propaganda they’re trying to catch you out with. But he would understand why they were doing what they’re doing. He would find commonality not in the cause, except perhaps in his liking for sticking it to the bosses, but in the sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are in the world: “Nobody’s satisfied wi’ what they’ve got, if you ask me. There’d be summat wrong with the world if they was.” Seaton’s is a punk attitude, long before the event, all chippy resentments and emphasis on his own anger and enterprise. Seaton, like the punks of the later 1970s, shared more with Margaret Thatcher’s vision of the future than is generally acknowledged.
Christy Fearn has just completed her first novel Framed, a story set during the Stocking-knitters’ demonstration of 1811/12. In Fearn’s version of these events, a young woman is making up banners out of waste cloth that read: ‘give us bread.’ Her brother asks her: ‘this isn’t how you usually spend Saturday night, is it?’ It would appear this particular night of the week has growing resonance for Nottingham, and the contrast of hedonistic revellers with Occupy protestors in the recent Saturday nights of the Old Market Square has been widely noted.
We asked Christy to spend some time with the protestors and to record some Vox Pops exploring these many contradictions and encounters. We would like this library of voices to help preserve a historical moment and form the outlines of a conversation future residents of this historical ground might still be able to hear in 2058.
‘I saw a drunken man, haranguing the protesters one afternoon. He was furious, he said ‘because he worked for a living’ and they were ‘dirty wasters’. Divide and conquer in action: tell the working class that those who object to the capitalist culture of dissatisfaction are ‘spongers’ and they will do the policing for you. He actually threatened to set fire to the tents before stumbling off into Yates’s Wine Lodge. He was angry, but didn’t really know why. His fury was misdirected; his mind addled by drink and self-righteous indignation.’ Soon afterwards, a protester was attacked. He was released by the police without charge. The protesters left on 22 April, 2012.
Occupy Movement protestor, Old Market Square, 2012. Source: David Sillitoe. Montage Paul Fillingham.
Christy found the protesters were from a broad age range, background and education, suggesting that this is a classless movement – a first for the Market Square, perhaps. It also suggests that the ‘bastards’ in receipt of Seaton’s suspicion have become so varied and difficult to pin down that many feel it is almost impossible to effect any level of meaningful change. The internet is a classless movement, connecting people together through thoughts and lifestyle rather than the more generic labels of age, gender and ethnicity, though, of course, it still costs money to buy the laptops, mobiles and connections needed to join the digital revolutions. Therefore, we felt the best place to continue this debate is via our Facebook page.
It would be nice to imagine Arthur Seaton utilising social media and directing all that energy he hurled at his bosses, nosey neighbours and careless husbands at bankers and other latter-day obstacles to a secure pay-cheque and a good time. Would Seaton really be interested in joining a wave of digitally expressed public opinion, or forcing the super-rich of 2012 to return their bonuses and pay their taxes, like the rest of us? Perhaps he would (he certainly wasn’t keen on those who thought themselves better than him) but we suspect he would be far too busy poking girls on Facebook to be all that effective as a social and political campaigner.
The Sillitoe Trail
Take your own interactive tour of the author’s city and follow in Arthur Seaton’s footsteps around Nottingham, exploring the real locations of key scenes from the novel. You can go back to the Old Market Square or visit The White Horse pub, the Raleigh factory, the River Trent and Goose Fair. For updated content, visit Sillitoe Trail Xtra
Follow: Arthur Seaton @Thespacelathe on Twitter
Download: Sillitoe Trail Factory Handbook (17MB PDF)
Fillingham and Walker 2012 - 2023