A poster for the play adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Shirley - Victorian period drama


The first ever live performance adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel of the same name, this play received funding from both the Yorkshire Dales Sustainable Development Fund and the Sedbergh & District Charitable Incorporated Organisation Community Fund, and was performed in promenade around Farfield Mill, Sedbergh in 2017.


JOE SCOTT and two mill women stand behind a chair, upon which sits MRS BARRACLOUGH. ROBERT stands before them; calm, upright and business-like.

ROBERT: Let it not be said that I shan’t answer a call for peace. I assume that’s what this is. You asked for an audience.

MRS B: I’M the audience. YOU’RE the orator, Sir. My husband has lain prostrate since his livelihood were taken. He finds his peace in gin. I and he were among a group of half a dozen turned out without relief nor hope of salvation a time ago. There are men that surround us and watch from yon trees on valley-side who support me in my request today.

She indicates for him to look to the trees. He does not.

ROBERT: I am a busy man. Why did you ask for me, Mrs Barraclough?

MRS B: You suggest I call for peace. It might perhaps be justly said that “reason”, rather than “peace” is the purpose of my visit today. We come to request you hear reason.

ROBERT: Your “reason” and mine may be rather different.

MRS B: Before you raised t’pole of your tent among us, we lived content. Not long since, hand-labour were encouraged and respected. I stand for my brethren who could eat and clothe their bairns in that time as cannot now. I say right, eh, Joe Scott?

JOE shifts his gaze away. MRS B
returns her attention to ROBERT.

I advise you to part with yon machines and take on more seasoned hands. You may not value the men who gave their health to serve you, Sir, but I imagine you value yoursen fair high. Thus I give the warning.

ROBERT: You sympathise no more with those poor men and women who follow you than you sympathise with me. Your men who hide in trees – (he raises his voice) should you truly be here, you have been misguided! I’m sure you will now venture to burn down my mill, destroy its contents and shoot me. Another, better mill will rise in its place, with a more enterprising owner.

MRS B: He’ll know what might well become of him.



The audience is attending an illicit meeting of millmen and women.

JOE enters alone. He addresses the crowd directly.

JOE: Friends, I call you here today for a word on Michael Barraclough. You all ha’e your own thoughts on him, no doubt. It’s a thing that must be cleared for all of us, what he speaks on. I know many of you call him a brazen drunk or a mad’un – but for all your number there’s an equal crowd calls him a fearless revolutionary. For my part, I am inclined to agree both ways. And here is where I feel we must be firm.

I were laid off from Hollow’s Mill over a year gone, and t’maister sought to settle me by finding me a position
gardening at Fieldhead.

A cacophony of disdainful voices rises. JOE shouts them down.

…For which I am grateful! But – do not mistake my gratitude for this token with life-long satisfaction. Why ought we to settle for tokens when they have fortunes, and even then not rightly their own but their fathers’?

They readily argue that to have may not always mean to be happy, but I can say surely that to have not equates
without question to being sorry and miserable and sick and cold! To fear and to death. And, for saying as much
hisself, do I commend Michael Barraclough. Long may he continue to spread such sentiments.

But in that way alone do I support him. He speaks violence. He talks of house-burning and war and bludgeons
and nooses. He calls Robert Moore a tyrant. Says he has his scent. Says that even while the man has not been seen since last summer, he will be the one to find him and to do for him. And that, friends, is the route to ruin.

MICHAEL, who has been standing unnoticed in the midst of the audience, now speaks out.

MICHAEL: It’s a sorry thing, Joe Scott, when a man who ought to take up arms and defend the rights of his fellows squanders his words to talk ill of the likes of me.

There is an awkward pause.

Thought to sneak this little gathering by me, eh? So you could preach that we must obey our betters?

JOE: That ain’t what I’m about. Make noise! Rattle your bloody cages, I say, Michael, but the moment a shot is fired, we hurt our cause and we hurt ourselves.

MICHAEL: We are hurting already! What is to stop us from bringing them down by force instead of rotting in the gutters as we are now?

JOE: Them upstairs have riches enough to rain fire and bring down the law by whatever means they may concoct. They
kill through denial of our needs. We could kill more readily, with musketballs if we wished, but t’would only call up powerful foes and see us trampled further into the mud.

MICHAEL: You wilfully blind yourself! You offer no way forward, Joe Scott, and, in spreading this claptrap, you turn folk away from the true fight for salvation. Yet they drink it in!
(He turns to the crowd.) I am alone then. So I need ask no permission. I’ll do what I will. (He leaves.)

JOE: Watch him – and do not follow his example, I beg you. May the devil take him if he means harm. Show care, and do no harm yourselves neither. Hear me and think on it is all.

© Caroline Lamb 2017 after Charlotte Brontë 1849

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