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Human Cargo comes to The Place in Bedford on 17 June. Our Parallel Lives partner is Bedfordshire Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support. BRASS works primarily to support refugees and asylum seekers with advice, English lessons and other services; it also runs events, particularly during Refugee Week, to spread awareness of the contribution made by refugees to life in Britain.

Bedford Stotfold Riot Cobbetts Weekly Register

In the 19th century, some viewed the Bedfordshire village of Stotfold as a wealthy place, saying "to live in Stotfold, one has to have £100 and a pig". But most people in the village were poor. And in 1830, like many agricultural communities across southern England, they decided to fight for better conditions. The Swing Riots reached Stotfold on 1st December. 300 labourers gathered, demanding pay of two shillings a day. When this was refused, some took out their frustration by setting light to some straw. Ten men were arrested and brought before the Lent Assizes in Bedford. One of them was 37 year old HENRY GENTLE, a stout man, 5’6” tall with a sallow complexion, illiterate but a capable ploughman. This latter skill was to steer his fate. At first, Gentle and four of his fellow prisoners were sentenced to death – a standard punishment for attacks on property, however slight. Then, also as standard, this was commuted to imprisonment which, in Gentle’s case, was changed to 14 years transportation to Australia. The young penal colony desperately needed farmers. So, after spending 18 months in a floating prison hulk in Woolwich, Gentle found himself on the Isabella transport, bound for Sydney. But this was a single ticket; Gentle had to leave behind his wife and five children. Another prisoner from Stotfold, WILLIAM SAUNDERSON, was also on board. Once in New South Wales, both men were assigned to farms in Maitland, around 80 miles north of Sydney, where we lose track of them. Some argue that convict life in Australia was preferable to prison in Britain, and possibly better than life as a free labourer back home. But it’s unlikely these men had exile on their mind when they joined colleagues in a simple claim for more pay.

Bedford Italian Immigrants

It’s a long way from Foggia to Bedford. Maybe not physically, in these days of global travel. But for a young brother and sister in the early 1960s, the passage from southern Italy to eastern England would have been profound – a seismic shift from hot, fiery Apulia to flat, sleepy Bedfordshire. But SALVATORE and ELISABETTA GARGANESE had no choice. They were joining their father, who’d made the journey ten years before, one of 7,500 men from rural southern Italy recruited by the Marston Valley Brick Company in Bedford. As Mario Borromeo from Benevento later said, ‘The Italians came to Bedford to eat the dust of the bricks because they had to earn a piece of bread.’ Some lasted no more than their four year contracts, but many stayed on – and brought their families across.  The Garganeses are still here, part of a huge Italian population within the town. Read more here

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