A biography of Welsh engineer and anarchist orator Sam Mainwaring, who was among the first active anarchists in the UK.
Sam Mainwaring 1841-1907
Born 14 December 1841 – Wales, UK, died 29 September 1907 - UK
Sam Mainwaring (pictured above, centre) was born in Neath, Wales on 14th December 1841. He trained as an engineer and married a Cardiff customs officer's daughter in 1868. He worked briefly in the United States for a short time before returning to London, where he worked as an engineer in Marylebone.
Here the young Tom Mann was influenced by Mainwaring’s politics when he came to work there. He helped found the Labour Emancipation League, and then joined the Social Democratic Federation. He was one of those who rejected Hyndman’s politics and left in the 1885 split to help form the Socialist League. He became an active speaker for the League. He was arrested with Jack Williams in 1886, and fined £20.
Commonweal, the Socialist League paper, gives an account of a speech Mainwaring gave to the Hackney branch Hackney in January 1887 :
"He said that the revolutionary Socialist never asks for palliative measures, either from local boards, or even Parliament itself. He showed that all movements of the people against abuse or monopoly, never succeeded except through the efforts of men who rebelled against the then existing 'law and
He was a friend of other anti-parliamentarians in the League like Joseph Lane and James Tochatti and was one of the anarchist historian Max Nettlau’s best friends.
Mainwaring helped organise the League's platform at the anti-Coercion demonstration on 11th April 1887. Later in the year he and Frank Kitz went on a speaking tour in South Wales. In 1891 he returned to South Wales to help raise two children deserted by his brother Tom, Ellen and Sam, Jr, who later became a union organiser and member of the Industrial Workers of the World. Mainwaring set up the South Wales Socialist Society in this period, continuing to propagate anti-parliamentarism in the region. Mainwaring returned to London in the late 1890s and continued to advocate anarcho-syndicalism (Albert Meltzer makes the claim that Sam was the first person to coin the term ‘anarcho-syndicalism’).
He published his memories of William Morris in Freedom in 1896 and 1897.
He took part in anti-war agitation in London in 1900, at the time of the Boer War, speaking alongside Tom Mann, Emma Goldman and Harry Kelly. With the Spanish anarchist Tarrida del Marmol he set up the paper The General Strike in London - two issues appeared, one in September 1903 and one in March 1904. As a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the London Trades Council, Mainwaring used his experiences to denounce the union bureaucrats in a detailed fashion, referring to unofficial action crushed on Clydeside because ASE officials would not grant strike pay. The paper also gave reports of industrial action abroad and attempted to popularise French syndicalist thought, such as that practiced by the CGT, and action in a British context. Unfortunately 1904 was a year of quite bad unemployment and Mainwaring had to return to South Wales in search of work.
He was “quiet, dignified bearing... full bearded, like Morris” according to Tom Mann, who added that after propagandist meetings William Morris often walked back with Mainwaring, and they looked like the skipper and the first mate of a ship.
He died while addressing an open-air meeting on Parliament Hill Fields on September 29th, 1907.
The 25th anniversary issue of Freedom (11th November 1911) carried a speech in which Tarrida del Marmol praised 'good old Sam Mainwaring, to whose energy we owed the few numbers of the paper the General Strike, and who... lived and died in the movement' .
Sam’s nephew, Sam Mainwaring Junior continued anarchist activity in South Wales. Albert Meltzer recalls staying with him in Neath when on a speaking tour.
Biography of Sam Mainwaring, 1841-1907