A brief biography of Welsh engineer and anarchist orator Sam Mainwaring.
A more detailed biography of Sam Mainwaring is in our history section here.
The Anarchist movement, numerically always a small movement in this country, has been rich, in fact unique, in exceptional personalities.
One of the most outstanding was Sam Mainwaring. Big in body and mind, a Celt, with all the fire and enthusiasm of his race (sic), he was yet a quiet persuasive speaker, and a tireless worker. The Cause was not a spare-time hobby with him, it was his life's work, and his zest never diminished. When he was too old and ill to do much open-air speaking, he took care that at his old favourite pitch, near Hoxton Church, there was a speaker, a platform, and literature on sale. An engineer by trade, he served for years as a delegate on the London Trades Council, and whilst never seeking an official position in his Union, he was active in it, seldom missing an opportunity of expressing his revolutionary views.
He was one of the original members of the Socialist League, a personal friend of William Morris, and was very closely associated with, and respected by, all the propagandists of that day whose names have passed into history. Wherever he happened to be living, Wales, London, or elsewhere, that place became the centre of propagandist activity. Older comrades will remember Sam's propagandist tours into Wales. The first one in company with F. Kitz. Sam spoke in his native Welsh, which he maintained was the finest speaking language in the world. On the second tour, many years after, he was accompanied by Terrida del Marmol.
Together, they, later on, started the short-lived revolutionary weekly "The General Strike", which was the forerunner of similar ventures. As a propagandist orator, Sam had his own style of address. It was characterized by clear deliberate thought, argument and enunciation, which held his audiences fixed until his message was delivered. He had a remarkable gift of humour, its form generally taking that of a story, the climax of which both amused and astonished the crowds who listened to him. It was a common thing for him to speak for four or five hours at a stretch, often during that time attracting two or three fresh crowds of people. His private personal efforts, like those of nearly all the active propagandist workers of that period were persistent. The movement to him never was merely a matter of public meetings only, but of private personal activity also.
An illustration of that fact is, that years ago Tom Mann, at a meeting at the Club and Institute Union Hall, in Clerkenwell Road, introduced Mainwaring as his old foreman who, in the engineers workshop, where they were both employed, brought the message of Socialism to him It is lamentable that Tom should now be a public spokesman of a party who would, by the medium of the OGPU, put a Russian Mainwaring up against wall and shoot him. Sam Mainwaring always advocated the right of others to express their own sincere convictions equally with himself.
This year being the centenary of, we ought to bear in mind some of the comrades who worked with him in the Socialist League. Some so-called historians of today regard Morris and the League as one and the same thing. The fact is, there was a body of really remarkable men and women in the League, and not the least of them was Sam Mainwaring. He left a gap which has not been filled.
His life and work is a challenge to the younger generations who follow. Will they equal or better his record?
By Mat Kavanagh, Freedom, May 1934
From the Kate Sharpley Library
Sam's nephew, Sam Mainwaring Jnr was also an active anarchist in South Wales - Nick Heath