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.

Ian

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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

Ian

 

 


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.

Ian

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


Clarion History

5 January 2019

16   ‘Socialist Unity’ and the ‘Clarion Referendum ‘ – Part 2

Quick resumé – since the previous episode was last year!

Blatchford and the Clarion had urged the The SDF and the ILP to merge and form a united socialist party. In 1897 an informal committee of well-known members of both parties had recommended ‘fusion’ – the merging of both organisations. This had been put to the memberships of both SDF and ILP in a referendum. Of the 6,044 taking part most supported the recommeded ‘fusion.’   But the the leadership of the ILP insisted on having another vote of ILP members and recommended the looser form of unity -‘federation’ – which won out – though a substantial minority still favoured ‘fusion’ . The SDF then took umbrage in its turn and insisted that it was bound by the first referendum of both parties and would have nothing to do with ‘federation’.

The Clarion, as usually daggers drawn with the ILP leadership, sided with the SDF and the disappointment with the failure to secure ‘socialist unity’ led in 1898 to the ‘Clarion Referendum.’

Thompson (aka ‘Dangle’) suggested in an article that July that ‘a plain manifesto of the aims of British Socialism ‘ should be submitted to the members of both the SDF and the ILP. Responding to this in September a well-known activist, Harry Reade, suggested a postal referendum on the desirability of a ‘United Socialist Party.’ Thompson, so often – like the Clarion generally – too eager to do sufficient preparation took up the idea – and got it off to a bad start.   Proposed ‘planks’ of the united party were   published in the paper – only to be cancelled together with readers’ votes responding to them after there were many complaints about lack of clarity in the proposals. A new list of proposed ‘planks’ was then published which readers were asked to send in their votes indicating which they supported.

Nevertheless, in spite of this initial fiasco an impressive 8,835 votes were received of whom 5,937 identified themselves as ‘unattached’ to either of the socialist parties. Thompson had hoped for an even larger response but was gratified that the most popular measure to be included in a ‘practical’ parliamentary programme was the referendum and initiative with 5,965 votes. As I explained in an earlier episode – Thompson was a great advocate of this in several Clarion pamphlets and many articles. In the Clarion Referendum it came ahead of Old Age Pensions (5,115 votes) and Work for the Unemployed (4,913)

The whole thing – like so many of the Clarion’s initiatives including the ‘Clarion Scheme’ which will be our next subject – was ill-prepared and not carefully enough thought through . But it was enough to alarm ithe Clarion’s opponents in other parts of the socialist movement. The leading Fabian, Sidney Webb, was in Australia but his private secretary wrote in to remind readers of his employer’s opposition to ‘direct democratic control’ as did another correspondent, Larner Sugden, who said that he allowed the Fabian Society to ‘do most of my political thinking for me.’

Keir Hardie’s Labour Leader charged – on the basis of no discernable evidence – that the Clarion was trying to lead socialists towards the Liberal Party. David Lowe, the Leader’s manager accused Blatchford’s paper of ‘diddlling’ ILP branches into ‘wrangling over the presidency and official positions’ and promoting ‘a gospel of suspicion and mistrust’

Notions of ‘Socialist Unity’ were now dead – at least for the time being

Ian        

Next Time The ‘Clarion Scheme’ or NIGFTLU (


Clarion History 15: ‘Socialist Unity’ and the Clarion Referendum – Part 1

18 December 2018

As mentioned in earlier episodes of this history, the Clarion had played its part in the birth of the Independent Labour Party in 1893. For the more purist socialists the very name of the ILP indicated a failure to take a more definite stance – what on earth did ‘independent Labour’ mean in terms of a programme and a vision of a better future?

But, on the other hand – especially after the failures at the 1895 election which was the subject of the last episode in the previous newsletter – what was the point of having two socialist parties – or in the ILP’s case at least a more-or-less socialist party? The SDF – the Social-Democratic Federation – had been established in the early 1880s. Would not the best thing be for the SDF and the ILP to merge and form a united socialist party?

Certainly, that’s what Blatchford thought. He urged Clarion readers to join both organisations and work for unity in both. This would no doubt be seen as wicked infiltration or worse today but back in the late 19th century no one seems to have objected. More relaxed times. Well, until things got heated, as we shall soon see.

The Clarion saw itself as representing – particularly – those people it labelled as the ‘unattached.’ These were folk who would have joined a united party but were put off by the rivalry between the SDF and the ILP. No doubt division did put off some – it always does. But the Clarion almost certainly had – let’s say – an over-optimistic assessment of how many there were of such people ‘ But there were certainly pressures for ‘socialist unity’ which led in 1897 to the setting up of an informal committee of well-known members of both parties.

This debated the best way forward. Should that be the ‘fusion’ of the ILP and SDF? Or a looser ‘federation’ of the two organisations? The question was put to the memberships of both. 6,044 took part in the vote and only 886 rejected the recommendation of the committee to support ‘fusion’. The SDF regarded the decision as binding but this result did not go down well with the leadership of the ILP – particularly with Keir Hardie.

Hardie by this time was in the habit of using his paper Labour Leader to urge ILP members not to tie down delegates to the ILP annual conference too much. Or as his ILP opponents including those around the Clarion saw it, he just wanted the membership to go along with whatever the leadership said.

Just before the 1898 conference he repeated this tactic. He interpreted the overwhelming support for ‘fusion’ among ILPers to the erroneous belief that this was what the leadership of the party wanted. They didn’t! The conference decided to refer the pro-fusion decision back to the ILP membership with the almost impossible to achieve proviso that a majority of at least three quarters of ‘financial members’ (i.e. those who had actually paid their subs!) would be needed for any proposal that involved ‘the dissolution of the ILP’.

The ILP vote produced a very different result from the earlier joint members’ referendum. Only 1,695 ILPers now supported ‘fusion’ while 2,397 favoured the ILP’s leadership alternative of ‘federation. So it was now the turn of the SDF to get stroppy. Incensed at what it saw – and said so loudly – as Hardie’s duplicity the SDF insisted on standing by the earlier – joint – vote in favour of ‘fusion’ and rejected any federal link

It looked as though the devious Hardie had triumphed – but Blatchford and the Clarion were not at all happy with this. Hostility increased on all sides and became very personal. When Justice, the SDF paper, and the Clarion attacked Hardie’s friend Frank Smith centred on issues arising from his candidature for the new LCC Hardie called them liars. Not to be outdone in the personal vilification stakes Blatchford who, as I’ve mentioned before, disliked Hardie (it was mutual) responded by telling Clarion readers that the ILP leader was ‘an obstacle to the progress of the Labour movement…universally disliked outside the ranks of his own party.’ Hardie he went on, made reckless assertions, sinned against ‘good taste’ and persistently played to the gallery. The ILP, Blatchford urged, should adopt the referendum and initiative and practise it as the decision-making process in the organisation. It should also ‘make it a law’ that no office in the party should be held for more than a year. This of course was aimed primarily at Hardie. By this time the Clarion supported outcry against the notion that the ILP should have a ‘president’ had got that replaced by ‘chairman’ – but whichever it was called it was still Keir Hardie.

And following this diatribe Blatchford, in a rather more positive and less personal way, went on to support the proposal of Alex Thompson (aka ‘Dangle’) that ‘a plain manifesto of the aims of British Socialism’ should be drawn up and submitted to the vote of members of all socialist organisations.

And it is to this – the Clarion Referendum – that we will return in the New Year

Ian

Next Time: ‘Socialist Unity’ and the Clarion Referendum Part 2


Clarion History 14: The General Election of 1895

27 November 2018

By 1895 there were two main national papers that identified with the Independent Labour Party (ILP) founded with considerable help from the Clarion in 1893. But – as mentioned in earlier episodes of this series – Keir Hardie the president of the new party had begun his own paper the following year – 1894. Although the Labour Leader wasn’t actually taken over by the ILP until the 20th century it nevertheless, because of Hardie’s prominence, tended to be regarded as the party’s official organ from the start.

It’s fair to say that Hardie and Blatchford didn’t get on and that they had very different perceptions of what the priorities should be for socialists. Hardie, already an MP wanted to advance the cause through conventional electoral politics. Blatchford wasn’t against doing that but thought it was a low priority which could be left more or less to look after itself. What was crucial was ‘making socialists.’ The phenomenal success of Merrie England which,again, I explained in an earlier episode, seemed to support this sense of priorities.

And, again, as we have already seen, the Clarion notion of ‘real democracy’ went way beyond anything Hardie and the ILP were proposing. And there was criticism from ILPers before the general election which took place in the summer, of the Clarion Cycling Club holding its ‘Meet’ at Easter -at the same time as the annual conference of the ILP. On the Clarion side Blatchford and Co insisted that democracy began at home. They waged a campaign – quite widely supported in the ILP – to drop Hardie’s title of ‘president’ and were successful in 1896 when it was changed to ‘chairman’. Not that it made too much difference to what the Clarion regarded as Hardie’s domination of the new party.

But before continuing with the tale of the election from the ILP/Clarion standpoint this is one of those occasions when to get a sense of what was really at stake we need to adopted a wider and longer-term perspective. At the moment the media is full of tales of splits in the Conservative and -to a lesser extent for the moment – the Labour parties. But if we could be joined by a well-informed observer of the political scene from 1890s or 1900s s/he would be likely to say ‘Splits! You ain’t seen nothing yet!’

The ace splitter was Joseph Chamberlain who managed the remarkable feat of splitting first the Liberal Party over Home Rule for Ireland and then, in the early twentieth century, the Conservative Party over Tariff Reform. In 1895 he was the Leader of the Liberal Unionists– i.e. the Libs who objected to Home Rule – and in alliance with the Conservatives. Gladstone had retired the previous year -after being PM on four different occasions, still a record today – and the Tory/Lib Unionist coalition was successful at the general election.

This would have far-reaching results. Chamberlain became the minister for the colonies and was largely responsible for the pretty disastrous Boer war 1899-1902 which among other things saddled Britain with the guilt of inventing the concentration camp.

But back to the 1895 election. Like all new movements and revivals hopes were high among Clarion readers and ILPers generally as the election approached. As usual on such occasions the heightened enthusiasm of a significant minority tended to obscure the fact that there were even more folk on the electoral register who were not carried away by the prospect of the new ILP.

The ILP fielded 28 candidates hoping to gain a small parliamentary foothold. But none were elected. And Keir Hardie lost his seat too. From his point of view the fact that no one else from the ILP succeeded did have the advantage of meaning that – given how important parliamentary representation is even to many who say they don’t believe in it – there was no real rival for leader of the party, though Blatchford remained as a sort of unofficial leader of the internal opposition.

In the four or five years that followed Hardie settled down to pursuing his objective of the ‘Labour alliance’ – which meant allying with trade unions or at least some of them; the miners for example were quite content to elect Lib-Labs until after the 1906 election which gave Labour its foothold in the Commons. The unions, still mainly Liberal in politics, were relatively speaking well off. The ILP was close to broke. It’s best bet, Hardie realised, was to tap the resources of as many of the unions as possible. The Labour Alliance strategy would succeed in 1900 when the Labour Representation Committee – already known unofficially as the Labour Party – was formed.

There was some disappointment among the readers and staff of the Clarion in August 1895 but winning elections was not their main thing. After 1895 they would turn their attention to a number of projects which had in common a belief in the virtues of direct democracy.

Ian

Next Time: ‘Socialist Unity’ and the Clarion Referendum


Clarion History 13: The First Easter Meet

16 November 2018

I included a number of extracts from the Clarion about the first Easter Meet at Ashbourne (near Dovedale) in the series I did a long time ago now but which still can be found via the blog if you follow the link to the old website.

What follows is just a small selection. First, here is ‘Swiftsure’ who presided over the weekly cycling column at that time – from the issue of 20 April 1895

Had there been more consultation beforehand between the various clubs interested, I feel sure the conference would have been more satisfactory.

But, however, a start has been made, and the formation of a National Clarion Cycling Club is a fact which, I believe will have far-reaching influence.

* * *

On behalf of the Birmingham Club, the “O’ Groomie O” gave a most interesting report of what their club has done since its formation, by the distribution of literature, and various other methods of scouting. And I must say that if every Clarion Club now formed were to do as much as this next season the cause of “Socialism” would be advanced in the country villages in a manner which is greatly needed

* * *

Before I leave the subject of the Ashbourne “meet” I should just like to say that the thanks of nearly everyone who went – and I believe they numbered nearly 200 – are due to Captain Atkinson of the Birmingham C.C.C for the indefatigable manner in which he looked after the visitors.

We all know that a Socialist who only does his duty requires and asks for no thanks, but all the same a true word of appreciation makes a man feel that his efforts are not thrown away.

There were several Sheffield cyclists at the “meet” and they expressed a wish for a “Clarion” C,C to be formed in Sheffield. Mr Jas. Ashurst, 29 Baker Street, Attercliffe, has offered to act as organiser in the first instance. Will all who are interested in the formation of such a club for Sheffield please communicate with him.

In the same issue A M Thompson (aka Dangle) was rather more fulsome.

No healthier or brighter force exists in all the movement than the ardent legion of young and lusty Scouts and Cyclists with whom we so pleasantly forgathered in the restful vale of the Dove. Their fervour, their intelligence, their readiness and resourceful of with (sic), their broad sympathy, and, above all, their kindly good humour, brought some of us who had presumed to think our services needful to were not wanted at all – except perhaps – as their disciples

* * * *

These men will serve. They formed the National Clarion Cycling Club at Ashbourne which is destined to make history.

Rather a lot of ‘men’ – but fortunately it didn’t stay that way for very long. Finally, for this edition, here is an account that throws light on how ‘Boots and Spurs’ – which came originally from one of Blatchford’s army tales – was first used in the cycling club. I’m not sure who the author was but it purports to tell the tale of the arrival at Ashbourne.

First we got oiled and blown up at Timberlake’s Repository.

“A great gent like you,” says Timberlake, when he saw my non-perisher tyres, “should have a better machine than this one.”
” A great gent like me,” I reply, ” Why, what sort of gent am I?” and Timberlake looked three ways for daylight and also scraped himself. “Well, ” he said, at last, with a critical air, “you look like a gent who could do with his portion.”

“You’ve guessed it at once,” said Whiffly and so we bestrid our wayward steeds, an after a brief halt at the “Buck in the Park” went in for records.

We got there, and, under the circumstances, we claim this as the greatest of cycling records. Cycling papers please copy.
Halfway is a village called Brailsford, with a contription. Ha! Ha! I need say no more.

It was a mile or two after this that Whifflly riding down a long steep hill with that sublime confidence which marketh the new beginner, lost control of his machine. Talk about Gilpin’s ride, it was nothing compared to Whiffly’s. He disappeared in a cloud of dust, out of which on the right-hand side a man and bicycle presentely turned double somersaults on the grass bank. Talk about De Quincey’s “Vision of Sudden Death”. In those cases where you are suddenly face to face with grim death, it is wonderful how coolly you philosophise.

“If Whiffly had fifty necks, ” I said to myself as he careered past, ” he’ll break every one of ’em this time.”

Instead of which, he was, beyond a few bruises, practically uninjured. It is unsafe to make predictions concerning him, he is such an unreliable person,

When I say practically uninjured I mean that the new knickerbockers were rent in twain. But we borrowed some string from a village blacksmith and tied ’em up behind a hedge. After which we smoked pipes on the grassy verge, and rode into Ashbourne, where we were welcomed by a knot of young fellows on the bridge with a cry of “Boots” to which we gave the Clarion countersign “Spurs –  and plenty of ’em.”

Ian

Next Time – The General Election of 1895