Sunday, 14 January 2018
The Gentleman Commie - A Baptism of Toffee
And so the revolutionaries of The Pelton Miners Communist League begin their glorious raid on the Horner's toffee factory in Chester-le-Street on 11th January 1938. Attacking from the north and supported by their formidable armoured train they hope to strike a blow for oppressed confectionery workers everywhere as well as nick a load of tools, machine parts and fuel oil that has just arrived.
The regional People's Duma have, under instruction from Moscow, encumbered the League with Arthur Wedgewood Benn, an Eton educated comrade of unknown provenance and unconventional socialist views.
Ably assisted by local firebrand Jeremy Scargill, pasty vegetarian Tony Corbyn and the politically slippery Anthony Blair they are joined by Gran Finnigan and her cadre of radical Production Line Girls who have procured keys to the factory.
The League pushes forward on a wide front from Wesley Terrace in the east to the western side of the railway line. In the distance they can hear the sound of their approaching armoured train carrying a team of riflemen.
"I love the smell of butterscotch in the morning, it smells like.. victory!" says a teary eyed Scargill.
Gran Finnigan, the Production Line Girls and a nervous looking Wedgewood Benn reach the Alderman Dowdell memorial fountain and catch their breath. Once past the gents' urinals they will take shelter behind the low walls of the back yards and wait for the train to arrive.
Opposing the communists are a collection of old sweats from the Chester-le-Street area gathered together by the local authorities into an ad hoc platoon.
Veterans of the Great War they aren't afraid of a fight but are all a little wheezy and arthritic. Can they stand up to the fervour and agility of their younger opponents?
Meanwhile Comrade Corbyn and the Pit Head Lads have run pell mell through the hedgerows to the west of the railway line. Regardless of any semblance of order and filled with a revolutionary fervour he orders "fix bayonets" and begins to sing the Internationale.
The train arrives and immediately begins to slow.
Providing a point of focus as well as considerable cover in itself, the train is the League's best chance of forcing a passage towards the toffee factory.
Scargill cheers, Gran looks impatient and Wedgewood Benn sinks lower behind the coal house he has been hiding behind for the last five minutes.
Corbyn is into the fourth verse when an enemy section appears in front of him and a Lewis gun opens up from a nearby house. While his men fall about him an undaunted Tony shakes his gloved fist and surges forward.
Wedgewood Benn's day is going from bad to worse and he refuses to move.
Gran Finnigan, however, has a 24-carat radge on. She abandons cover with her gals and storms up Wesley Terrace. Eventually they duck back down an alley but the red mist has well and truly descended on these harpies of revolution.
Having bayonet charged and been bloodily repulsed Corbyn and his two remaining comrades are shot down where they stand.
As if to add insult to injury the Lewis gun has found a weak spot in the trains armour and it's riflemen have all been killed.
Panicked the driver engages reverse gear and opens the steam valve.
But wait, for there is yet more tragedy to endure. The Production Line Girls, screeching like banshees, assail a section of shocked veterans cutting many of them down. All in vain as they are shot down in their fury. Their names will live forever in glory: Doris, Little Nan, Lazy-eye Sheila, Big Sal and, of course, Gran Finnigan. Think of them whenever you're sucking on a black bullet.
So ends a disastrous day for The Pelton Miners Communist League. Wedgewood Benn and the remainder of the force slink away, their opponents are far too short of breath to chase them.
Comrade Corbyn could not be saved. The bullet between his eyes being beyond the skill of even the redoubtable Dr Crippen, the pit doctor. Gran Finnigan, however, survived. Saved by the numerous slabs of treacle toffee she keeps in her corset.
Horner's toffee factory which at its peak spread over five acres closed in the 1960's and the buildings fell into dereliction, the landmark chimney being finally demolished in 1980. It's most famous product was Dainty Dinah Toffee and a replica of the Regency period beauty herself can be found at the entrance of the Morrison's store which now occupies the site.
The factory fielded its own woman's football team during the Great War. This photograph is from 1918, was the steely Marxist glint in Gran Finnigan's eye visible even then?