Who's Who of Radical Leicester

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Serge Forward's picture
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Oct 5 2011 12:15
Who's Who of Radical Leicester

Here's an interesting local radical history website, compiled by Ned Newitt: Who's Who of Radical Leicester

There's a diverse range of entries, from chartists to Labourites, co-op folk, secularists and CPers. There's also a few anarcho-communists in there. So it's worth a search. Here's one for you:

Quote:
Tom Barclay
Born: 1852, died: 1933 (Socialist League, SDF, Anarchist Communist Group, I.L.P., Secularist)


Tom Barclay was born in a two-roomed hovel in an 18 ft. sq. court off Burley’s Lane. He was the son of Irish parents who had been starved out of Ireland by the potato famine. Although he never went to day-school, he was taught to read by his mother. Although he scraped along in various menial jobs for most of his life, he had a profound influence on the intellectual life of the City. In the 1870s, he attended classes at the Working Men’s College under the Rev. D.J. Vaughan and others, whilst working at Cooper and Corah’s hosiery factory. He eventually rejected Catholicism and became a Secularist, influenced by the writings of the American secularist Robert Ingersoll and others. He joined the Leicester Secular Society in 1881.

He had a deep love of literature, especially Ruskin and felt an obvious empathy with William Morris. He later came across the new Socialist ideas and though Barclay saw capitalism as evil, it was the moral, intellectual and spiritual degradation that went with it that he so despised.

Although he was previously in the S.D.F., in November 1885, he was a founding member of the Leicester branch of the Socialist League and contributed to Morris’ Commonweal. He was an active propagandist for socialism speaking wherever he could find a platform. In 1886, Barclay was also briefly general secretary of the Leicester Area Hosiery Union. The same year, he produced a weekly newspaper, the Countryman that was distributed free to over 50 villages and was financed through advertising and the patronage of J.W. Barrs, the secularist tea merchant. The first issue came out in March 1886 and displays Barclay's pen in full flow, with numerous articles tucked between the copious adverts. There were features on village hosiery strikes, political economy, magisterial appointments and an essay competition for agricultural workers. It ceased publication in the early 1890s.

During his life he was a member of the S.D.F., the Anarchist-Communist Group and the Independent Labour Party, but he disliked the sectarianism of the left of those days. He upset fellow Anarchists by supporting the I.L.P. and Joseph Burgess for parliament. He claimed to have influenced many of the founders of the I.L.P. including T.F. Richards, George Banton, Jabez Chaplin, Amos Sherriff and his life-long friend Archibald Gorrie. Despite Bradlaugh's rejection of Socialism, he remained one of Barclay's heroes. At the news of Bradlaugh's death, Barclay was found in St Saviours road crying like a child.

Barclay, probably because of his impoverished background, held a long-standing aversion to co-operative production. He believed with some justification that it enhanced to status and economic position of the few well off workers who could fund such ventures, leaving the deeper problem of poverty untouched.

He also set up a weekly socialist newspaper exclusively for the Leicester Labour movement: the Leicester Pioneer, probably in 1892. (None of the early issues survive) and claimed 5,000 readers. Although he opened up the paper to the I.L.P., the paper was eventually re-established with the backing of the Trades Council, the I.L.P. and some Liberals.

During the 1890s, he worked as a house to house bill distributor and took note of the people’s living conditions. This served as a basis for a series of articles on Leicester’s slums for The Wyvern written under the pseudonym of Armer Teufel (poor devil) He also wrote on a number of other topics including Some Memoirs of a Literary Hot Pea Vendor. He then moved to London where he did a similar job. At this time he became convinced that he could not be true Irishman without learning the language and took classes in Gaelic. He returned to Leicester in 1902 and set up a short-lived branch of the Gaelic League in the City. He had no desire for office even within the Secular Society and despite the hard conditions of his life, refused offers of financial help from his friends. He never married having been disappointed in love in his ‘teens. Later in life, when it was clear to him that he would always be poor, he determined never to marry and a have children and have them suffer the privations that he had been through. Barclay had a wide circle of friends, his fund of knowledge on books and authors, of humorous tales, of limericks and school boy howlers made him excellent company. Sometimes he would get out his whistle and amuse the children by dancing Irish jigs. Children grew very fond of him. One observer described as being: ‘never so happy, as when he is making economic problems clear to the comprehension of a costermonger in a Leicester court or alley. He is the Socrates of the Market-place and street comer.’

He said he worked in quite twenty factories over a period of fifty years and during the last twenty-five years of his life his work was mainly that of a bottle-washer. Throughout his life had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He was a true working class intellectual and freethinker. His book: Memoir and Medleys: The Autobiography of a Bottle Washer was published posthumously in 1934.

Sources: Tom Barclay, Memoir and Medleys: The Autobiography of a Bottle Washer 1934, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, Leicester Working Class Politics 1860-1906, Nash, David, Secularism, Art and Freedom, Leicester 1992, The Wyvern, 25th January & 7th June1895

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Oct 5 2011 11:53
Quote:
George Cores
Born: St Georges, London 1869, died: 1949 (Socialist League, Anarchist-Communist Group)
George Cores was a fiery anarchist shoemaker. (1901 census gives his place of birth as St Georges in the East End of London) By 1887, he was secretary of the Hackney branch of the Socialist League and then moved to Leicester c1890 where he combined his brief stay as a laster in Leicester with his activities as occasional editor of the Commonweal. (he became the editor when David Nichol was arrested for incitement to murder) He then moved to Walsall where he co-ordinated support of the imprisoned Walsall anarchists.

In February 1893, he got work again in Leicester and was active in the unofficial strikes in the boot and shoe trade. He was a member of the Leicester branch executive, where he and T.F. Richards fought against the domination of William Inskip. Cores was a staunch member of the Freedom circle, but was at odds with his fellow anarchists over his support and belief in trade union organisation. He was a delegate to the Trades Council and was secretary of the organising committee of Leicester’s first May Day demonstration in 1893. Thereafter, the Trades Council took over the organisation of these events. He was also involved in the establishment of the Leicester Labour Club in May 1893.

Battlescarred
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Oct 5 2011 12:26

Have you seen the tom barclay bio here at libcom, Serge?

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Oct 5 2011 12:30

I've not. Will have a gander later.

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Oct 5 2011 12:31
Quote:
Archibald Gorrie
Born: Aston, c1856, died: 1941 (Socialist League, Anarchist Communist Group, I.L.P.& Labour Party)
Archibald Gorrie was in business on his own account as a draper. He was a founder member of the Socialist League and was ‘converted’ to socialism after listening to Tom Barclay speaking from the back of a dray in Humberstone Gate. Barclay described Gorrie as ‘a middle class activist who would always put his hand in his pocket to pay a speaker’s expenses or for the rent of a hall.’ He became secretary of the Leicester Branch of the Socialist League in 1889 and, during the 1890s, was active as both a Christian Socialist and a member of the Anarchist Communist Group. In 1898, the remaining Socialist Leaguers regrouped as the short lived Leicester Socialist Society. This claimed support from dissident I.L.P. members and linked itself to the old anti-vaccination campaign.

During the Boer War, Gorrie was active in the Leicester Society for the Promotion of Peace and was secretary of the Anti-Conscription League. From 1902, he was involved with the Leicester Passive Resisters' League and the Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Citizens' League which spearheaded non-conformist opposition to the 1902 Education Act. He was among those who refused to pay the share of rates that supported sectarian religious education in schools. As a result, his household goods were seized and sold to pay his debts to the Council.

He was elected to the Board of Guardians c1910 as an I.L.P. candidate and was treasurer of the City of Leicester Labour Party from 1923 to 30. He was the Labour candidate for Wycliffe in 1928 and was eventually elected to the City Council for Latimer ward in 1934.

Archibald Gorrie’s grandson was active in the anti-fascist movement. He and others hung and anti fascist flag/banner on the building between High Street and Silver Street after gaining access from the Silver Arcade c1935

Sources: Archibald Gorrie Collection of Political memorabilia, University of Leicester Library, election address 1933, census returns

a.t.
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Oct 5 2011 21:43

Thanks for posting this, this is really cool, shame it's mostly dominanted by Labour/Liberal/Co-Operative types.

It's pretty strange seeing a number of those people on that site went to the same primary school that I did.

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Oct 5 2011 22:45

Aye. Having looked at the rest, I couldn't find anyone else from the anarcho-communist side. But as it says, it's a work in progress. That Ned Newitt's the same guy that wrote the book A people's History of Leicester, so he knows the terrain - keep meaning to get a copy of that book. Historically, Leicester's a very interesting place in terms of not only radicalism but revolutionary politics. William Morris had a lot of connections with the Secular Hall, Kropotkin, Malatesta and others spoke there. There also seemed to have been a sizeable anarcho-communist presence early in the 20th century and, if I'm not mistaken, I understand there was an APCF presence too.

Battlescarred, excellent work on Tom Barclay. But I'd expect nothing less from you beardiest

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Oct 5 2011 23:24

And in your article on Tom Barclay, you mention George Robson.

Quote:
George Robson
Born: Leicester or Leicestershire circa 1837, died: c1897 (Socialist League)
George Robson was a framework knitter by trade. He was a socialist and secularist and friend of Tom Barclay and Joseph Dare. He was an activist in the Leicester Amalgamated Hosiery Union in the 1880s and worked at Corah’s with Tom Barclay where they were supporters of Charles Bradlaugh. They then became a converts to William Morris and founded the Leicester Branch of the Socialist League on Nov 1st 1885. He was a frequent speaker on platforms at Russell Square and Humberstone Gate. He contributed to Thomas Barclay’s Country and Midland Counties Advertiser.

From the 1870’s, Robson was an enthusiastic naturalist who made a complete collection of specimens of Leicestershire moths, butterflies, beetles and plants which found their way into the Museum’s collection. Barclay described him as a working man scientist, who did not always speak grammatically However, he gave up his job and sold his collection of fossils so he could study to be a certified teacher. Barclay recalled that he was a better writer than a lecturer.

Sources: The Wyvern, 16th July 1897, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism

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Oct 6 2011 17:34

these are great

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Aug 10 2013 22:52

More from Ned Newitt's website...

Quote:
Benjamin Warner
Born 1848, died 1918 (Socialist League)

Ben Warner was the son of the local Chartist leader and framework knitter Joseph Warner. During the 1880s, Warner, Homes, Barclay & Chaplin were a group of Socialists active and prominent in the hosiery union. Warner was a member of the executive of Leicester Area Hosiery Union and later became its president. He was also its delegate to the Trades Council. He was a member of the Socialist League. Although originally a framework knitter, by 1901, he was working as a woollen glove hand.

At a dinner held to commemorate the Paris Commune, those present (including Tom Barclay and Jimmy Holmes) resolved to set a Socialist Club in Leicester. This became the Labour Club and the base of the I.L.P. By this time, in the early1890s, he had become an anarchist. He was a member of the Leicester Secular Society.

His son Walter, born c1879, was the manager the Secular Hall for a short time after 1910. During her teens, Ben's daughter, Clara born c1875, was active in the Socialist League. She too became a manager of the Secular Hall.

Sources: Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, family members