Clarion History 21

14 June 2019

Blatchford alienates two very different groups of readers

Until the late 1890s Blatchford had been supported pretty uncritically by most readers of the paper. But then, first with the outbreak of the South African (or Boer) War in 1899 and later with his attacks on organised religion and belief in his books God and my Neighbour in 1903 and Not Guilty: A defence of the Bottom Dog two years later he upset two rather different sets of readers.

The war, which lasted from 1899 to 1902, was opposed by most of the Left – including the Liberals and above all Lloyd George who came to national prominence at this time as an opponent of the war. Blatchford’s socialist allies in the Social-Democratic Federation were particularly active in opposing the war.

There were a number of factors which led to this apart from simply an opposition to war in general though that certainly played an important part.

That the, apparently mighty, British Empire was waging war against two small republics – Transvaal and the Orange Free State – naturally led to sympathy for the underdogs. The suspicion – not without supportive evidence – that designs on the gold and diamond mines of South Africa played an important role was another factor. Later on Emily Hobhouse’s exposure of conditions in the concentration camps set up by the British added to what for many was already a scandalous war.

Most people have probably heard of the famous nationalistic celebrations following the lifting of the siege of Mafeking, but less well known are the violent attacks by supporters of the war on anti-war meetings including those of W T Stead’s Stop the War Committee. Stead was one of the founders of investigative journalism who would later be one of the most prominent figures to go down on the Titanic. The Manchester Guardian was another outspoken opponent of the war.

Blatchford, of course, had spent some of his most formative years in the army and – as would later be the case in 1914 – found it impossible to do other than support a war in which British soldiers were involved – often with fatal results.

This position of supporting the war alienated quite a few readers of the Clarion as one would anticipate. Then a few years later, his atheistic writings brought a lot of criticism from those who still adhered to some form of religious belief.

Blatchford introduced God and my Neighbour like this:

I was not perverted by an Infidel book. I had not read one when I wavered first in my allegiance to the orthodoxies. I was set doubting by a religious book written to prove the “Verity of Christ’s Resurrection from the Dead.” But as a child I was thoughtful, and asked myself questions, as many children do, which the Churches would find it hard to answer to-day.


Both Blatchford and the Clarion survived these controversial episodes. But there is little doubt that his appeal was at least temporally dented.

Next – The Labour Party and Victor Grayson


Our predecessor The original Brighton Clarion

15 April 2019

After the last newsletter I received an email from Ken Wells reminding me that he had been a member of the old Brighton Clarion.

Quite early on – soon after the current version started back in 2004 – we tried to find out as much as we could about our predecessor. In one of our newsletters, then known as a circular, that 1 April, I reported as follows:

As a result of the piece that Adam Trimingham put in the Argus the other week I had a call from Brian Hutton. Brian is the paper’s long time cycling correspondent and may be known to some of you (He was a member of a Brighton section of the Club in the later 1940s. Apparently the leading figure was Wally Newman, a local Labour councillor, who I’ve certainly heard of and I’m sure so have some of you Most of the members, though, like Brian himself, tended later to concentrate their efforts with other local clubs like the Brighton Mitre.

Brian actually became a member of the new B&H Clarion, although he was not able to cycle any longer. Sadly, he is no longer with us – Sue and I attended his funeral a few years ago – but happily, as already indicated, Ken certainly is. Below is a piece he wrote for us back in the day. You’ll find much more, with some photos, including one of Dave Gravett who some of us will remember from when he attended early Christmas ‘do’s’ (and the old Brighton Jazz Club)) if you go to the blog, click on the the link to the old website and then on ‘history’ In the meantime here are some of Ken’s recollections.

Ken Wells recalls the Clarion in the late 1940s

I was a member from early 1948 to 1949, when I left to join the Prestonville Nomads, I have been in Brighton Mitre since Prestonville Nomads ended in 1968, and am currently treasurer and official for Sussex CRL.

Unfortunately, I do not have any results from that period, but I remember riding an SCA 25 in September 1948, when Clarion had quite a good team, and several club events. Principal rider was Mike Moreton, another rider for Clarion in that event, and second team counter was Brian James, also a Mitre member who lives at Bracknell. He may have records. Mike Moreton left shortly after to join the Brighton and Hove Wheelers, he is no longer in the district. A few more names of 1948-1949 members, but I have no idea of their whereabouts.

Derek Payne who joined B & H Wheelers later and emigrated to Canada, Derek? Howson, Derek Grover, Brian James. Derek Marsh, who was club captain in 1948
Also ? Bush (cannot remember his first name), Len Blackman, Mike and Pat Moreton.

Pat joined the Prestonville when I did, and Mike Joined B & H wheelers shortlybefore being called up on National Service. National Service was the cause of a lot of people giving up cycling after being posted to distant shores with no bike. Mike was Sussex Pursuit champion and won several other championships in Wheelers colours, Clarion the team prize in an SCA 25 in Sept 48, which was my first 25, Mike did a 1-1 Brian James did a 1-4 in his first 25, I cannot remember who the third team counter was. It was not me.’

Brian, who is still in touch with Ken, adds a few more names though he’s not sure whether or not all of them actually joined the Clarion Ivan Kettley, ‘Faz’ Farrell, Derek Cover,]

At Easter 1948, what was, I think my second club run, was to Herne Hill for the Good Friday meeting at which Reg Harris was due to compete. (He did not owing to being injured in a car crash.) The run went on to a youth Hostel tour into Kent. I joined in as there was a vacancy, without letting my parents know. This caused a certain amount of alarm, as this was before wide availability of telephones, before I turned up on Monday evening. Club runs to Herne Hill were a common occurrence, Sunday runs were well attended: 20-30 attendance usual. In those days if you wanted to go anywhere, you just got on the bike and went. No cars and no money for train fares.

We also rode to Southampton Track and back to see Mike Moreton ride in an event (140 miles round trip).

One other small nugget of news, when I joined the RAF for national service in 1951, one of the standard questions was “Are you a member of a political party or cycling club”. Clarion was regarded as a political party.


How we started back in 2004

26 March 2019

We began in February 2004. Here’s the minutes of our inaugural meeting

Minutes of the inaugural meeting of the prospective Brighton and Hove Section of the National Clarion Cycling Club.

February 2004

Taking Part   Ian Bullock, Joyce Edmond-Smith, Ed Furey

It was agreed

  1. to form a Brighton and Hove Section
  2. to adopt the draft constitution as circulated and amended.
  3. to apply to affiliate to the National Clarion Cycling Club.
  4. that until the 2005 AGM – or an EGM called by the Management Committee prior to that – Ed Furey would act as Chair, Ian Bullock would act as Secretary and as Joyce Edmond-Smith Treasurer.
  5. that until otherwise determined the membership fee would be simply the national subscription as determined by the national conference. (currently £4 p. a)


Weather wise we could hardly have chosen a worst time to get going.   At this stage we hadn’t decided what day of the week we might go for as is evident from this message I sent out a little later. Some of it’s no longer intelligible -if it ever was!


‘Boots’ to you all!

INAUGURAL RUN! a gentle canter down the Cuckoo Trail

God, I feel like Eisenhower trying to find a chink in the weather to launch D-Day!

I’m now tied up this week except Friday. I was going to suggest that as a possibility.

The Brighton weather forecast (from is OK in terms of temperature for a nice change and maybe we could risk ‘light showers’   But it’s very windy.

Unfortunately the following week doesn’t look that good either – especially as regards wind. Monday 22 looks the best though

Of course by the time we get there the whole thing may have changed quite dramatically.

I’m game if you are – for any of these dates. Send your e mails to everyone to speed the process up, and if you’re going to the start by train please make enquiries and let us know what time to meet at the start of the trail.

The next month for me – as things stand at the moment – now goes like this

  1. This week. Can only make Friday19 and away that weekend (20/21 March)
  2. 22nd – 27th OK any day Not Sunday 28th
  3. OK Monday 29 – Thurs 1 April (!) Away for just over a week starting Friday 2nd

[I appreciate Ed that you’re still in the process of getting your bike sorted and may not be able to join us – which is a shame, but I know you want us to press ahead.]


Eventually we did get going early in April. But the weather was still pretty atrocious as you can see from my account of our first ride

Inaugural Ride 10 April – The Cuckoo Trail

Three of us managed the ‘inaugural ride’ in the end – Joyce, our newest member Sheila Schaffer who some of you at least also know. (We’re now up to 7 with about as many more prospective joiners)

The weather was awful – cold, wet and windy and the Golden Martlet pub where we’d reckoned on having a break was covered in scaffolding and closed – but having survived World War II we were not going to let a spot of rain deter us. In spite of the weather we had an enjoyable day – and thanks largely to Joyce thoughtfully bringing a flask of hot soup we survived.

We decided that for the moment – and subject to general agreement – we’d reckon on having a ride every other Sunday and have sketched out plans for a couple of nice easy-peasie little ones of no more than 23 miles at the most for the next two.   Ian






27 February 2019

In his history of the Clarion CC, Fellowship is Life (pp 49-50) the late Denis Pye mentions that the young Gustav Holst – the composer best remembered for The Planets – was involved with the Clarion. He was also a formidable cyclist – though whether he ever actually rode with the Clarion CC we don’t (or at least I don’t) know.

Below are some information and extracts from his biographers – Holst’s daughter, Imogen Holst’s Gustav Holst. A Biography 2nd ed 1969and Michael Short’s Gustav Holst. The Man and His Music OUP 1990

Before he moved to London, Holst lived in Cheltenham:

…he would sometimes walk or cycle the 97 miles from London to Cheltenham with his trombone slung on his back. Occasionally he would take the opportunity of practising the instrument while resting during the journey, to the astonishment of the farmers on whose land he sat. [Short p 22]

Holst was asthmatic and Short speculates that he got interested in cycling via articles in the Cheltenham music magazine The Minim, which also ‘carried pieces on socialism.’ (p 29)

In London he joined the Hammersmith Socialist Society – whose leading figure and ‘guru’ was William Morris – and formed the Hammersmith Socialist Choir where he met Isobel his future wife.

He was also occasionally to be seen perched on a cart playing a harmonium, while being dragged round the streets of Hammersmith by a group of enthusiastic distributors of socialist propaganda.’ (Short p 30)

He included his own song ‘Two Brown Eyes’ in a ‘Grand Evening Concert’ by the Hammersmith Socialist Choir concert in Feb 1898. The 2nd movement of his ‘Cotswold Symphony’ (July 1900) was an elegy to the memory of William Morris. In 1908 , according to Imogen Holst, ( p 32) he was ill and ordered by his doctor to take a holiday in a warm climate. So he went cycling in the Algerian desert!

And according to Short (p 84) in the following summer of 1909 he cycled to Steyning to stay with friends and – riding with no headgear – fainted with heat exhaustion. He was persuaded to take the train back. Doesn’t it seem amazing that he could survive the heat of the Sahara – only to be floored by the weather in West Sussex?


Series to be resumed…

19 The ‘Clarion Scheme’ or NIGFTLU (Final Part)

11 February 2019

The last two episodes sketched in the essential background in terms both of the Clarion stance on democracy and the developments in the trade unions – essentially from ‘New Unionism’ to ‘Employers’ Counter-offensive’ with the latter culminating in the Engineering Lockout of 1897 to 1898 which threatened to smash the most well-established of all British trade unions– the Amalgamated Society of Engineer or ASE – and very nearly did. It should now be possible to make sense of the ‘Clarion scheme’, why it seemed to gain a significant foothold and why, ultimately, like, for example, the Clarion referendum, it failed.

There were several schemes for allying unions into a mutually supportive federation. Most were named after their originators – Eyre’s scheme- which the Clarion‘s by now well-established rival Keir Hardie’s Labour Leader tended to favour – or Horrock’s scheme. What became known as the ‘Clarion Scheme’ was the brainchild of P J King.

Little is known about King. At the time of the New Unionism around 1890 he had been the leader of the Lancashire Chemical and Copper Workers’ Union centred on St Helens and Widnes. King’s first Clarion article promoting his scheme appeared on 6 February 1896. For the next nearly four years his federation scheme – soon known as the ‘Clarion Scheme’ was featured in the paper most weeks. Four of the Clarion Pamphlet series – Nos 17, 24, 28, and 33 were also published in its support – the first under Blatchford’s name as well as King’s. The association with the paper was to be a mixed blessing for King’s proposal. It did get it nationwide publicity but it also mobilised anti-Clarion elements.

The scheme was very Clarionesque in its ethos. In June 1898, just a month before it was launched as the National and International General Federation of Trades and Labour Unions [definitely just NIGFTLU from now on!] King wrote: ‘The Trade Unions of this country must no longer be manipulated and controlled by a bureaucracy. The initiative and referendum will do much to check abuses of irresponsible persons.’ He went on to attack ‘well-paid and well-groomed officials’ – hardly likely to go down well in the trade union ‘establishment.’

There were to be only two NIGFTLU full-time officials – president and secretary. They would be assisted by an elected lay Executive. The decisions of its annual delegate meeting – to be called the Federal Labour Parliament – were to be ‘submitted to the general body for confirmation. ‘ Referendums were also to be used to decide whether or not to aid member organisations in disputes with employers. These direct democracy provisions were the most novel feature of NIGFTLU together with its ‘four nation’ structure which guaranteed at least one Executive member from each of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Not only entire unions but individual branches could join NIGFTLU.

After a very shaky start during which uncertainty prevailed over where – Manchester? Carlisle? London? and when, May? June? July? – the initial meeting of NIGFTLU was to take place it was launched in July 1898 with, reportedly, a Federal Labour Parliament meeting attended by 200 delegates representing 750,000 trade unionists. King was elected as secretary.

Meanwhile, the 1897 TUC, under the pressure of the disastrous lockout of the ASE, set up a committee which put together what became known as the ‘official scheme’. This was to become the main rival of King’s Clarion scheme. It was meant to debated at the 1898 TUC in Bristol. But the night before the issue was to be dealt with the Colston Hall burnt down and the TUC leadership postponed discussion until a Special Congress in January 1899. My friend Logie Barrow, who is the world expert on NIGFTLU, thinks that the members of the Parliamentary Committee in the photo that appeared soon after this look surprisingly relieved.

When the Special Congress met it was announced that only the ‘official scheme’ would be discussed. An amendment designed to allow discussion of other schemes – notably the Clarion one – was defeated. The meeting went on to set up the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) which still exists today. There were now two rival federations.

The GFTU got off to a slow start – but it lasted. NIGFTLU didn’t. King’s lack of tactical sense in seeking union support and his rather erratic organising ability had much to do with this. Being seen as part of the Keir Hardie v Robert Blatchford or Labour Leader v Clarion vendetta didn’t help at least not in some union circles. The Clarion also retreated into the role of an entertaining newspaper that was getting a bit fed up with the scheme associated with it. Rather like the case of the Clarion referendum one gets the impression of poor tactics not always thought through and boredom with the issue which was easy to dismiss as dilettantism. Blatchford continued to maintain – in October 1901 – that King had not been given the chance he should have had by the powers that be in the trade union movement. ‘I do not believe that the scheme or the man had fair play.’

NIGFTLU still enjoyed some support but it gradually faded away in the early years of the twentieth century. I am not aware of any reference to it after about 1905. So the best laid schemes of the Clarion once more came to nought – there was not to be an ultra-democratic trade union organisation flourishing in Britain. That said, there must be plenty of people who are members of trade unions – even active ones – who have never heard of the GFTU – the TUC’s ‘official scheme’ and NIGFTLU’s rival – though, as I have already said, it is still very much in existence.

Next Time.
I think we’ve had enough of the ‘heavy’ political stuff for the moment so I’m going to use a piece on the composer Gustav Holst and his association with the Clarion and his cycling adventures. It’s long enough since I first circulated it.


Clarion History 18

31 January 2019

The ‘Clarion Scheme’ or NIGFTLU (Part 2 )

I finished the last episode with the ‘new unions’ helping to produce a revival of working-class – and working-class oriented – politics which resulted in – among other things – the launching of the Clarion in December 1891 and in 1893 the foundation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP)

In previous episodes we have seen how Blatchford’s attempts in, especially, the second half of the 1890s to encourage the two main socialist parties, the SDF and the ILP to unite came to nothing. We need to bear this in mind as part of the background to the Clarion scheme which was being promoted at more or less the same time

Another part of the background vital for understanding the nature of the attempt to promote a radical form of trade unionism is the nature of Clarion politics during these years.   We have seen in earlier episodes that – in, arguably, an over-simplistic way – Blatchford and Co had been very opposed to anything that might lead to bureaucracy or the professionalisation of socialist politics. This in turn led to the advocacy – especially in the pamphlets written by A M Thompson (or ‘Dangle’) – of direct democracy in the form of the referendum and initiative. Blatchford was even critical of the Cycling Club for using a delegate system rather than holding referendums to make decisions.

After the dodgy plebiscite of 2016 it is, quite understandably, even harder than it usually is to make the case for referendums – which as we shall see played a major role in NIGFLTU (aka the ‘Clarion scheme’.   But there are a few things we should bear in mind. At a time when at something between a quarter and a third of men and all women were denied national voting rights, whatever criticisms can be made of their partiuclarl proposals, the intentions of the Clarion were definitely to promote democracy.   Secondly, the ‘initiative’ -the right of an agreed number of electors to call a referendum – was always what was intended   rather than plebiscites arranged by the government. If the UK intends to go down the direct democracy route maybe we should have some public enquiries into the experience of Switzerland and those US states where people regularly vote on ‘propositions’ resulting from what the Clarion (and others) called ‘initiatives’?

But back to the trade union scene in the 1890s. The upsurge of ‘New Unions’ is far less well remembered than what followed, which is what has become known a ‘the employers’ counter-offensive’ In the earlier part of the decade even the unions representing the well-established ‘coal and cotton’ trades came under attack with, to name just a few examples. a mining lock-out in 1893, and a bitterly fought Lancashire Cotton-Spinners’ struggle the same year as well as a dock strike in Hull.

Meanwhile, among more radical trade unionists – especially those with socialist convictions – discontent grew with the TUC. Critics were stronger in local trades councils which were represented at the annual congress than on the Parliamentary Committee which looked after – inadequately the rebels said – union interests for the rest of the year.

In 1895 the TUC leadership carried out what was seen as a ‘coup.’ It came up with a new procedure which included the block vote, proposed the exclusion of the trades councils from Congress representation and then used the new system to get this through – which many saw as sharp practice. All this encouraged the   belief that something more -and more representative of the grassroots and more radical – than the TUC was needed if the employers’ counter-offensive was to be resisted and union demands for the eight hour day and other improvements in working conditions were to be advanced.

Things came to a head in the summer of 1897 when a near-national lockout by the Engineering employer’s co-ordinated by a Col Dyer began against the ASE – seen since the 1850s as the most powerful and secure trade union. This lasted into 1898. In the Clarion Blatchford described it as ‘the Engineers’ Sedan’ a reference not the famous chair but to the decisive defeat of Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War which among other consequences brought the Second Empire crashing down. Was the same fate about to happen to the British trade union movement?

Not surprisingly with concerns about the success of the counter-offensive rising even before this thoughts began to turn to some form of allianceor trade union federation that could do more to resist this than the TUC seemed able or willing to do. Various schemes were suggested including the one that came to be known as the ‘Clarion scheme.’ It’s author, P J King seems to have turned up at the paper’s office early in 1896, persuaded Blatchford and Thompson to back his radical scheme which was then promoted on a virtually weekly basis sometimes under Blatchford’s own non de guerre of ‘Nunquam.’

Next time we will see what was the nature of this scheme and what became of it




Clarion History 17: The ‘Clarion Scheme’ or NIGFTLU (Part 1 )

14 January 2019

The tale of the Clarion Scheme or to give it its impressive (and very long) title the National and International General Federation of Trades and Labour Unions (or NIGFTLU for comparative shortness) is not very well known even among people interested in the history of unions in this country. So this time I will try to sketch in the essential long term background and then turn to the immediate circumstances of the Clarion Scheme next time.

We must begin by recognising that NIGFTLU was not the first ambitious attempt to combining unions representing all workers into a ‘fighting’ organisation. In the early 1830s there had been the National Association of United Trades for Protection of Labour (NAUTPL) – which we might say set the precedent for long and inclusive titles as did its much larger and truly impressive Grand National Consolidated Trade Union (GNCTU) inspired by Robert Owen’s socialism. Others followed in subsequent decades
A key moment in trade union history in the UK came in 1851 when the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) was formed by – as the name suggests – the merging of smaller organisations. When Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote their History of Trade Unions in 1894 they invented the title of ‘New Model Unions’ to describe this and similar craft unions which came into existence in the 1850s. Their analysis has been challenged several times in the last century or so but the name has stuck.

New model unions were very much concerned with organising the skilled workers in particular trades – like engineering and carpentry. They tended to be concerned not only with achieving wage increases for their members but also maintaining the pay differentials, status and privileges of the skilled craftsmen (and they were all men) who they represented. Left wingers tended to dismiss the craft unions as a ‘labour aristocracy.’

The TUC came into being in 1868. Its main function of lobbying for legislation favourable -and against legislation unfavourable – to the unions is suggested by the fact that until it changed its name to the General Council in 1921 the national committee that looked after TUC business between annual congresses was called the Parliamentary Committee. At this stage the TUC was composed mainly of ‘New Model’ craft unions.
All changed – or so the more simplistic versions of trade union history tell us – in the late 1880s when there was an upsurge of unionisation of – formally – unskilled workers which is general known – rather confusingly as the New Unionism. A key moment was the famous Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888 which turned out to be rather untypical in that it concerned strike action by (mostly) young women employed at the famous Bryant and May factory. They were assisted by Herbert Burrows, a key figure in the SDF, and Annie Besant who was a member of both the SDF and the Fabians. She would later become an exponent of theosophy and an important figure in the movement for Indian independence.

The following year 1889 saw the equally famous London Dock strike. Ben Tillett, one of the strike leaders became the secretary of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union.

Back in the 1970s as part of a project to record socialist and labour movement activists I was part of a small group who interviewed his daughter, Mrs Davies, who lived in Rottingdean and was a very active Labour Party campaigner – very rare in 1970s Rottingdean in those days. She had also been a participant in the women’s suffrage movement. But when one of us (hope it wasn’t me!) suggested that she might have been a member of Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union – the original suffragettes – she got quite angry, denounced the Pankhursts for their lack of democracy within the WSPU organisation, and made it clear that she had belonged to the breakaway Women’s Freedom League led by Charlotte Despard and Teresa Billington-Greig
Other important figures in the Dock Strike were Tom Mann of the ASE, John Burns and Eleanor Marx, the daughter of Karl who tragically committed suicide a few years later. She was also instrumental in helping Will Thorne set up another ‘new union’ the Gasworkers and General Labourers Union.’

With much help from other unions and socialists including a £30,000 donation from Australian unionists the London Dock Strike succeeded in achieving its aim of securing ‘the dockers’ tanner’ – sixpence an hour – which gives us some idea of how massive the Australian donation was.

The new union upsurge and accompanying ‘socialist revival ‘spread to other areas of the country – though not always with great success. The foundation of the Clarion in 1891 was a part of this. Which is a convenient point at which to stop for now.


Next Time The ‘Clarion Scheme’ or NIGFTLU (Part 2 )