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:
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