Clarion History

14 October 2018

11 The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club – a national link-up?

We’re still in 1894 -and indeed rather earlier in that year than last time. In trying to give an idea of how the Clarion developed and what it stood for; I want to tie in as far as I can something of the story of the CCC, using where possible some of the material I collected and put out in earlier newsletters some years ago. Two episodes back I used Tom Groom’s ‘Advance Birmingham’ letter which appeared in the paper at the end of April 1894. A month later the piece that follows appeared. It’s part of a report from ‘Manchester and District’ by Leonard Hall. Hall was a long-term ILP activist, probably best known later on, in 1910, as one of the authors of the ‘Green Manifesto’ (not an environmental tract, I’m afraid, but so called from the cover of the booklet). Its official name was Let Us Reform the Labour Party (yes, even then!). The story is told – I think I can allow myself a plug after all this hard work – in one of my chapters (the ‘political’ rather than ‘union’ ones) of Logie Barrow and Ian Bullock,Democratic Ideas and the British Labour Movement, 1880-1914, Cambridge University Press, 1996, now available in affordable paperback from CUP! I’m drawing on this a lot for other episodes of this ‘history’ But enough of this self-promotion – here’s Hall’s report from the end of May 1894

The latest and greatest ‘idea’ in the world is that of a National ‘Clarion’ Cycling Club with local centres. The electrical Tom Grooms and the oak-hearted Harry Atkinsons of Birmingham have the honour of inspiration but there is nothing ‘Brummagem’ about it. These neighbours of Joseph the Pneumatic have already a lively little society of ‘jiggers’ who wear in their caps a natty gilt badge consisting of a miniature bugle with the legend ‘Clarion’ in silver letters – all permanent wear and who not only enjoy themselves but spread the gospel by way of sticking I.L.P. labels and texts wheresoever they wander on wheels. Besides which they can lend a hand – or rather a voice – at struggling branch meetings in adjacent districts wherever occasion calls.
. . .
I.L.P. cyclists – and their name is now legion – all over the country can have the aforementioned emblems by applying to Comrade Chris Thompson, 253 Park Road, Hockley, Birmingham, who is the designer. And local societies that wish to fall in with the National ‘C’ C.C. should communicate with the same gentleman at once, as it is proposed to organise a great gathering of the clans later in the summer at some convenient centre – say Derbyshire.
. . .
By the way, why not have a great ‘Clarion’ picnic for all and sundry some August weekend, in some happy English valley, to which should come the faithful from the four corners of the world, on wheels, on legs, in trains, ye Bounder to preside over the revels and – er- the vittles.

Which, among much else, tells us about the origin of the Clarion silver badge.

Ian

Next Time       Hail Referendum! (no certainly not that one!)

 

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Clarion History 10: The Clarion and John Lister

2 October 2018

We saw in the last episode how much Blatchford objected to the very notion of ‘leadership;’ He rejected it in Clarion articles on ‘Real Democracy’ and ‘On Leaders’ in the summer of 1894. He always conceded that he was in a minority, even among socialists, in taking such ideas so far. And there was considerable debate in the paper featuring those who disagreed with him. One such was John Lister, who was among other things, the national treasurer of the ILP.. Perhaps a slightly unlikely ILP, Lister was a Wykehamist, an Oxford graduate and the owner of Shilden Hall near Halifax, a town he would stand twice unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate for the ILP. In the Clarion on 15 July he recognised the necessity for democratic control but entered some caveats about leaders and elected representatives. Responding to Blatchford he gave his opinion that

…a large amount of individual freedom must be left to the selected ones. This, not in the interest of the leaders themselves, but of those they represent and guide. To me the essential thing seems to be that really the fittest men for any special work be selected.

Provocative words – if you were Robert Blatchford.

But the debate died down over the summer – for one thing the staff of the Clarion were up to their ears busily bringing out the penny edition of Merrie England. In November the debate was resumed with a new intensity when the behaviour – or alleged behaviour – of Lister on Halifax council seemed to epitomise ‘the never-ending audacity of elected persons.’ The facts of the case were hotly disputed but, as initially presented in the Clarion, concerned suspicions of secret dealings with the Liberals by Lister and his colleague as a town councillor representing the local constituent of the ILP, the Halifax Labour Union, James Beever. Such activity would have been anathema especially to advocates of the ‘Manchester Fourth Clause’ like Blatchford.

Whether or not they were guilty of such things Blatchford argued that it was ‘quite clear that they were guilty of another and equally serious offence and that is insubordination.’ Lister had refused ‘to act according to the direction of his constituents when on the Council’ and Beever had refused to publicly deny charges of Liberalism. They were both prominent and popular people who had served the movement well in the past, but that just made it more clear that ‘the only course open to Halifax Labour Union is to expel both of these members from the I.L.P.’

A heated controversy inevitably followed with Hardie defending Lister in the Labour Leader. Blatchford insisted that

Socialism without Democracy would be a state of abominable tyranny. Democracy means that the people shall manage their own affairs…

One critic of Blatchford and defender of Lister in the Clarion itself was Edward Carpenter – ironically enough the declared disciple of the very Walt Whitman so often cited by the Clarion editor as a steadfast democrat. Carpenter attacked ‘the dancing doll theory’ and supported Hardie on the Halifax business and eulogised John Lister. Like so many other Clarion campaigns in the 1890s the Clarion – or in this case Blatchford himself – lost out. But this does not mean that the issues raised are not important -even in the 21st century

Ian

 

 

Next Time   The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club – a national link-up?

 


Clarion History – 9 ‘Real Democracy’ and the Clarion

19 September 2018

The last episode was on the long side. So this time I’ll keep it fairly short. In episode 7 I explained about the rivalry and sometimes hostility between Blatchford and the Clarion on the one hand and Keir Hardie and the Labour Leader on the other. How sensitive all this was, right from the start, is Illustrated by what happened in June 1894. In the 9th June Clarion appeared an apparently casual remark by Blatchford. He had written, ‘I have always urged the people to watch their leaders – since they will have leaders – closely and call them shapely to account. ‘ This then triggered a whole series of articles on ‘Real Democracy’ which were widely construed as an attack on Hardie.

A rather convoluted debate then followed in which Blatchford tried – not altogether convincingly – to differentiate ‘guides’ – like himself or, presumably, Karl Marx – from ‘leaders.’ A ‘leader,’ he insisted, was a commander ‘whether a usurper or an elect of a democracy’ As regards the latter Blatchford declared himself ready, as he would do many time in the following years, in the words of Walt Whitman ‘to rise against the never-ending audacity of elected persons.’

What about himself as a ‘leader?’ Blatchford conceded that ‘I might have been a leader.’ He’d actually been elected into a position of leadership when the Manchester and Salford ILP was founded. He had ‘consented because I knew that if I refused the Party would not be formed at all,’ But as soon as the party ‘got a little vigour and growth’ he had left. He had done so for two reasons. Firstly, he had ‘suspected the existence of a spirit of “deference’ towards him. Secondly, he had realised that there was ‘outside the Party an injurious belief that the existence of the Party depended on my presence.’

He reiterated his objection to the notion that he was any sort of ‘leader’.

Like Edward Carpenter and William Morris, I am a counsellor and nothing more. I will have neither pay, nor office nor power from the people. I am no more a ‘leader’ than is a scientist who pleads for better sanitation.

Having disposed, to at least his own satisfaction, of the unmerited accusation of leadership as applied to himself and having carefully distinguished between the role of guide, or counsellor, which was legitimate, and that of leader or commander which was at best dodgy in the extreme. Blatchford went on to protest against the idea that Parliament or other elected bodies were there to govern.

These men should not be ‘masters,’ they should be delegates. In council let them give their advice and opinion honestly and earnestly, and let the advice be accepted or rejected as the majority deems fit . But in Parliament and in all executive positions their duty is not to command but to obey.

As we shall see in some of the later episodes – including the next one – this uncompromising view would be restated in one form or another many times in the years that followed.

Next Time The Clarion and John Lister


Clarion History – 8

5 September 2018

The very beginning of the Clarion Cycling Club

Time, I thought, for a bit of relief from all this ‘political’ stuff – interesting and important though it is   Many years ago now I featured a longer version of what follows in the newsletter. You can still find it in the ‘History’ section of the old website via the current blog. But even if you read it when I used it before then the chances are you’ve long forgotten it. So here goes.

As you can read in Denis Pye’s Fellowship is Life it all started with a letter from Tom Groom – now commemorated in the Tom Groom trophy awarded every year at the Meet.

At the time Groom was Secretary of the Bond Street Labour Church in Birmingham. This was a recently-formed organisation – another part of the ‘socialist revival’ of the 1890s that helped float the Clarion. Its founder was an ex Unitarian (as in New Road, Brighton) minister – John Trevor. The Labour Church must not to be confused with the various brands of Christian Socialism. Basically the difference was that whereas Christian Socialists believed that Christianity was essentially socialist, the Labour Church started as it were from the other end seeing the Labour Movement itself as essentially religious. At the end of April 1894 the letter below appeared in the paper. It was followed by a very typical Clarion editorial comment

[We print the above with some misgiving. After recent allegations we are not wholly untroubled with a horrific suspicion that it may be an invention of this unconventional person. Our fears in him stick deep – especially since he has gone, or has not gone – on Tour. If our suspicions should prove correct – but enough – Ed. Clarion]

The ‘unconventional person’ was, you probably won’t be surprised to learn, that early Clarion stalwart Edward Fay – aka The Bounder

I’m convinced that the editorial comment was just one of Blatchford’s jokes – but perhaps not everyone was at the time. Or perhaps they saw in it the opportunity for another ‘go’ because the following week , 5 May 1894, there appeared in the Clarion as one of the contributions to ‘Local Notes’ a report on Birmingham, signed ‘Arturo’ which, after reporting the recent foundation of the Birmingham Democratic Club went on:-

The Clarion Cycling Club has come to stay and the article in last week’s
Issue in reference thereto was written by a prominent member. So the editorial misgiving that the Bounder may have done this thing may now give way to editorial calm, and the Great and Only one stands once more vindicated before men.

So, with that by way of introduction here – at last – is the letter in its entirety. It’s a bit long but you need to read the whole thing to get the full flavour.

ADVANCE BIRMINGHAM
BEING AN ACCOUNT OF THE CLARION CYCLING CLUB’S EASTER TOUR

‘We shall arrive!’ And in order that our coming may be speedy, we have started the Clarion Cycling Club, and at Easter we want to tour. We were seven; And we started from Birmingham to Wolverhampton by train on a dirty, dark, damp, dismal, dreary morning at 7.15.

We were only half awake and we were cold and hungry and the journey between Birmingham and Wolverhampton is one of the most mournful in England.

But – aha – we got to Wolverhampton, and had a little refreshment, and we got on our jiggers, and we woke up, and the sun came out, and the ‘little squeakers’ began to warble fit to crack their little throats, and we got hopeful, and cheerful, and oh! we were gay!

Then came we unto Bridgnorth and did there Bounderise. Bounderise – verb irregular (very) meaning to imbibe liquors of various degrees of strength – to assimilate resuscitating comestibles – to walk on one’s heels – and to generally spread oneself out. Afterwards we sampled Bridgnorth on the banks of the silvery Severn, and departing thence came to Arley and Bewdley both on the banks of the aforesaid silvery Severn.

On our way hitherwards we were led by ‘The Fiend’ into a veritable slough of despond, from which we emerged covered with much variety of landed estate causing a delay of many golden moments whilst we scraped ourselves.

Bewdley is a fine place, but – they haven’t been used to catering for cyclists there. We assisted in their education, however, and the next time they hear of our coming they will prepare themselves. For we shall arrive.

Next day we pushed on to Evesham, via Stourport, Ombersley, Worcester and Pershore. At Worcester we indulged in periphery swelling, consuming spring chickens (year doubtful), sampled the cathedral, and then in single file proceeded through the town. Suddenly the first man rang his bell and dismounted, the others following suit. The first man spoke not but pointed with trembling delight to where they sold the Clarion. There is hope for Worcester – they sell the Clarion there. We marched in, in order, and purchased our Clarions, and then as solemnly walked out, once more mounted our machines and proceeded on our way, as men who had glimpses of higher things.

In this mood we came to Evesham, as quaint and pretty a little town as existeth, and there once more we Bounderised. Good Lord! How we did eat! Before we commenced operations, our fair hostess besought us to stay for dinner the next day, telling us of the gracious things provided for the meal. She plied us with legends of cyclists who had fared at her hands, and had afterwards wandered to other taverns, but had come back to her hostelry once more as a haven of rest and home of plenty. Then provender appeared. For half an hour we raised not our eyes and spoke not a word, but steadily thought on the Bounder. The landlady became silent, the moody, then morbid, flinched, trembled, quivered, quavered, quock, broke line and finally succumbed. It was a glorious victory. ‘Are you,’ she asked with quivering lips, ‘are you gentlemen going to stay dinner tomorrow?’ We said we were not and once more she breathed freely.

We went to bed late that night – very late – but we arose early next morn, for the Army of Salvation paraded the town at 6 a m with a band, the big drum being in charge of the local blacksmith. May he be eternally spiflicated.

We were due at the Labour Church that night, so we started Brumwards, having spent as good a holiday as possible. Ah-h-h-h!!!! It was glorious!! Say no man lives till he has been on tour with the Clarion CC. Till then he but exists. After – !!!

We are going on another tour at Whitsun of which more anon.

By the way, we want a President. Bounder, what sayest thou? Wilt thou preside o’re us? The duties are light. Thy might name to grace our fixture list, and a visit of yourself to Brum to preside over a periphery–swelling function. Wilst thou come? Look you, Bounder, we are no mean admirers of yours. See here, what you have moved one of us to: –

When the bounding Bounder boundeth
Lightly o’er the Clarion page
Then the reader’s heart rejoineth
Filled with wisdom from the Sage

Fig for Nunquam and for Dangle
Fraud Mcginnis and Mont Blong
Thou alone, mighty Bounder
Art fit subject for our song

There are 98 more verses to this, which, if the Bounder will become our President we solemnly promise to destroy, If not – !!!

THE O’GROOMIE O

……………………………………….

As you see our Clarion ride reports are not without precedent from the very earliest days. Not sure who our version of ‘The Fiend’ might be. Any nominations?

 

Ian

 

Next time ‘Real Democracy’ and the Clarion


Clarion History – 7 The Clarion and Labour Leader

22 August 2018

The foundation of the Clarion at the very end of 1891 coincided with – and indeed was part of – an upsurge in radicalism centred on working-class struggles – like the long-running strike at Manningham Mills in Bradford. By 1893, as we have seen it had led to the election in 1892 – for as it turned out only until 1895 – of Keir Hardie as an ‘Independent Labour’ MP and then of the formation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

At this time the only other explicitly socialist paper operating nationally was Justice – like the Clarion a weekly paper. Justice was edited by Harry Quelch, one of those remarkable late Victorian autodidacts who somehow overcame a more or less non-existent formal education to acquire all the skills necessary to edit a very literate paper. It is said that he taught himself both French and German in order to be able to put the rest of the international socialist movement right at international conferences. Justice was the paper of the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF) and had been hard at work spreading the word for the previous decade. Relations between Justice and the Clarion, and between the SDF’s leading figure Henry Hyndman and Blatchford, were pretty good. You may recall from the second of these little pieces on Clarion history Blatchford saying that ‘I got the idea of collective ownership from H.M. Hyndman’ But the two papers were very different publications.

While Justice was very much the organ if the SDF and largely concerned with its campaigns and internal debates, the Clarion sought – and obtained – a much wider role as a socialist paper independent of any party. Yet in 1893 it had often seemed to speak for the new ILP. That was to change the following year, 1894, when Keir Hardie started his own paper – Labour Leader. Although the Leader was as much an independent paper speaking for Hardie as the Clarion was for Blatchford from the start it was seen as the official organ of the ILP. Such is the power of parliamentary politics in this country. It would eventually – in the early 20th century – be taken over by the ILP when the party bought it from Hardie.

There is little if any doubt that Blatchford and Co resented Hardie’s new paper whose very existence they tended to see as a criticism of the adequacy of the Clarion. That said, they didn’t think much of Hardie’s paper which they regarded as pretty boring and pedestrian. Whatever the rights and wrongs of all this the papers became rival mouthpieces for those involved in disputes within the ILP. As we shall see in later episodes time after time the Clarion would take up the cause of ‘dissident’ groupings in the ILP. If Hardie and Labour Leader were the ILP ‘establishment’, the Clarion was, among many other things, the bolt-hole of its rebels.

Partly this was a matter of the very different personalities of Blatchford and Hardie. To Blatchford and many around the Clarion, Hardie was too earnest and self-important. To those on Hardie’s side Blatchford was too frivolous and lacked the patience to pursue a sustained campaign. I think there was a large element of truth on both sides.

But there was also a philosophical or ideological difference. As his latter career would demonstrate – more than any other single individual he was responsible for the creation of the Labour Party – Hardie was firmly focussed on practical politics – especially winning or at least trying to win elections, Blatchford was not against this but it had a much lower priority in his scheme of things. For him the key task was ‘making socialists’ – something he was supremely good at as I showed in the last episode about Merrie England. For Blatchford the practicalities of the election of MPs and local councillors could be more or less left to happen spontaneously. Spending too much time on such things was both diverting from the real task of converting public opinion and had the tendency to be mundanely boring .

Ian

Next Time – the very beginning of the Clarion Cycling Club


Clarion History – 7: The Clarion and Labour Leader

6 August 2018

The foundation of the Clarion at the very end of 1891 coincided with – and indeed was part of – an upsurge in radicalism centred on working-class struggles – like the long-running strike at Manningham Mills in Bradford. By 1893, as we have seen it had led to the election in 1892 – for as it turned out only until 1895 – of Keir Hardie as an ‘Independent Labour’ MP and then of the formation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

At this time the only other explicitly socialist paper operating nationally was Justice – like the Clarion a weekly paper. Justice was edited by Harry Quelch, one of those remarkable late Victorian autodidacts who somehow overcame a more or less non-existent formal education to acquire all the skills   necessary to edit a very literate paper. It is said that he taught himself both French and German in order to be able to put the rest of the international socialist movement right at international conferences.   Justice was the paper of the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF) and had been hard at work spreading the word for the previous decade. Relations between Justice and the Clarion, and between the SDF’s leading figure Henry Hyndman and Blatchford, were pretty good.   You may recall from the second of these little pieces on Clarion history Blatchford saying that ‘I got the idea of collective ownership from H.M. Hyndman’   But the two papers were very different publications.

While Justice was very much the organ if the SDF and largely concerned with its campaigns and internal debates, the Clarion sought – and obtained – a much wider role as a socialist paper independent of any party. Yet in 1893 it had often seemed to speak for the new ILP. That was to change the following year, 1894, when Keir Hardie started his own paper – Labour Leader. Although the Leader was as much an independent paper speaking for Hardie as the Clarion was for Blatchford from the start it was seen as the official organ of the ILP. Such is the power of parliamentary politics in this country. It would eventually – in the early 20th century – be taken over by the ILP when the party bought it from Hardie.

There is little if any doubt that Blatchford and Co resented Hardie’s new paper whose very existence they tended to see as a criticism of the adequacy of the Clarion. That said, they didn’t think much of Hardie’s paper which they regarded as pretty boring and pedestrian. Whatever the rights and wrongs of all this the papers became rival mouthpieces for those involved in disputes within the ILP. As we shall see in later episodes time after time the Clarion would take up the cause of ‘dissident’ groupings in the ILP. If Hardie and Labour Leader were the ILP ‘establishment’, the Clarion was, among many other things, the bolt-hole of its rebels.

Partly this was a matter of the very different personalities of Blatchford and Hardie. To Blatchford and many around the Clarion, Hardie was too earnest and self-important. To those on Hardie’s side Blatchford was too frivolous and lacked the patience to pursue a sustained campaign. I think there was a large element of truth on both sides.

But there was also a philosophical or ideological difference. As his latter career would demonstrate – more than any other single individual he was responsible for the creation of the Labour Party – Hardie was firmly focussed on practical politics – especially winning or at least trying to win elections, Blatchford was not against this but it had a much lower priority in his scheme of things. For him the key task was ‘making socialists’ – something he was supremely good at as I showed in the last episode about Merrie England. For Blatchford the practicalities of the election of MPs and local councillors could be more or less left to happen spontaneously.   Spending too much time on such things was both diverting from the real task of converting public opinion and had the tendency to be mundanely boring .

Ian

Next Time – the very beginning of the Clarion Cycling Club

 

 

 


Clarion History – 6 Merrie England

25 July 2018

In 1893 Blatchford wrote a series of Clarion articles in the form of ‘Letters to John Smith of Oldham – A Practical Working Man’. These seemed to go down well with readers so the following year they were published in book form as Merrie England. Much later The Manchester Guardian  would say that for every British convert to socialism made by Das Kapital there were a hundred made by Merrie England. Blatchford was, according to Stanley Pierson in Marxism and the Origins of British Socialism, published in 1973, ‘by far the most effective recruiter for Socialism in England.’

I have a 1908 version of the book. Originally the book’s title page gave as the author ‘Robert Blatchford (Nunquam)’ and it was dedicated to ‘A. M Thompson (Dangle)’ By 1908 the nicknames had vanished, Blatchford was described as ‘Editor of the “Clarion”’ and the dedication was to ‘A M Thompson and the Fellowship’ meaning the Clarion Fellowship which united many parts of the Clarion movement including many members of the Cycling Club.

The book begins with a chapter on ‘The Problems of Life’ and ends 26 short chapters later with ‘Is It Nothing to You?’   On the way there are chapters on a range of concerns including ‘Can England Feed Herself?’ ‘Who Makes the Wealth and Who Gets It?’ and ‘The Rights of the Individual.’

The 1908 book is full of interesting adverts, apart from the actual meat of the book of course, some of which I may quote from in future episodes. But for the moment I will confine myself to just one. It is a general ad for the paper which will give an idea of just how important it was in the two decades prior to World War I. It tells us that ‘The CLARION has a circulation of over 80,000 and is the most popular and representative organ of Socialism in the Kingdom.’

The ‘Publishers’ Preface’ tells to story of Merrie England up to that time.

The success of “Merrie England” is a phenomenon which neither the author nor his publishers feel competent to explain.

Originally issue in 1894, the little book passed through many editions , at prices ranging from five shillings down to one penny, and the total sales in this country, in Europe and in the United States is said to have exceeded two million copies.

“Merrie England” was translated into Welsh, Dutch, German, Swedish, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Danish and Norwegian.

“Merrie England” has been out of print from some years, and is now reissued to meet the urgent demands of the public. That this is no mere form of speech is proved by the fact that more than 20,000 copies have been ordered before any public announcement of this edition has been made.

Ian              

Next time The Clarion and Labour Leader