Clarion History

14 June 2018

3.  The Clarion is launched

I finished the last episode with Blatchford in 1891about to leave Hulton’s Sunday Chronicle on which he had a well-paid job as a leader writier. By this time he was well established as a result of his Nunquam articles. The summer of 1891 had seen him adopted as an ‘independent Labour’ parliamentary candidate for the newly-formed Bradford Labour Union. To what extent this cost him his job on the Chronicle or at least contributed to his leaving the paper is still not clear.

But it may be useful here to sketch in something of the general background. Labour, along with Land and Capital was supposed to be one of the ‘factors of production’ – but one that unlike the others was at very least under-represented if not totally unrepresented in parliament. The idea of some kind of independent Labour representation had been around for decades – since Chartist times in the mid-century – but so far the attempts had been deflected into the Liberal Party. Since 1874 there had been a growing number of Liberal-Labour (or ‘Lib-Lab’) MPs who were usually prominent trade union leaders. Mining areas were particularly good as Lib-Lab constituencies since they were populated overwhelmingly by those who if not miners themselves were closely associated with mining and where the influence of the mining unions was strong.

As mentioned last time,organised socialism was represented by the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF) since the 1880s but had been unable to make a breakthrough electorally in the House of Commons. The late 1880s had seen an upsurge in trade unionism especially among (supposedly) unskilled workers. The most famous strikes were the ‘Matchgirls’ strike at Bryant and Mays in 1888 and the great London Dock Strike of 1889 but there were also conflicts in the northern manufacturing areas. In Bradford it was the long-running strike at Manningham Mills that finally broke the back of local Lib-Labism. The Liberal Party seemed to be totally on the side of the employers. Hence the idea that what was now needed was definitely ‘independent’ (that’s to say independent of the Liberal Party) representation. Hence the Bradford Labour Union – which was quickly followed by other local bodies of a similar nature

It was in this context that Blatchford left the Chronicle worked for a couple of months on Joseph Burgess’s Workman’s Times for which he wrote a series of articles on socialism. One of these asked ‘How is practical socialism to be brought about? Partly by education , partly by Parliamentary action. We want real democracy in place of the sham Party-ridden democracy now existent.’

And so – with the emphasis firmly on ‘education’ – Blatchford, together with his fellow journalists A M Thompson (aka ‘Dangle’) Edward Fay (‘the Bounder’) and a few others launched the Clarion in December 1891

Next time The Earliest Days of the Clarion





Clarion History – 2 Robert Blatchford before the Clarion

30 May 2018

Robert Blatchford, 1851-1943, was, together with his brother Montagu who later became one of the Clarion team writing mainly about the theatre and music, was the child of ‘strolling players.’ He was born in Maidstone and raised by his mother, Georgina after his father died in 1853. It was a pretty hand-to-mouth childhood with frequent moves and little in the way of a formal education, though Blatchford managed to read Dickens, the Bible and other books which would have a clear influence on his later writing style.

By 1862 the Blatchfords were in Halifax and in 1864 Robert was apprenticed to a brushmaker. At the factory he met his future wife, Sarah who he would marry in 1880. For reasons that are still not totally clear he ran away, walked to Hull and eventually made his way to London and was next heard of as a promising recruit for the British army in which he was eventually promoted to sergeant. His time in the army was a formative experience. His first biographer A Neil Lyons would maintain in a Clarion article after the outbreak of war in 1914 that the army was in his case the equivalent of university. Certainly he was later fond of writing tales of army life based on his own experience such as Tommy Atkins of the Ramchunders published in 1895. And, as I mentioned last time, his army years provided the origin of the Clarion CC greeting ‘Boots!’ and ‘Spurs!’

After leaving the army Blatchford worked as a clerk for Weaver Navigation which connected the Manchester Ship Canal with the Trent and Mersey Canal via the famous Anderton Boat Lift. In his spare time he concentrated on improving his written English and teaching himself shorthand with a view to becoming a journalist. By this time he was a friend of Alexander Thompson whose background involved an even more peripatetic childhood than Blatchford’s.

Thompson – who became the Clarion‘s ‘Dangle’ and by 1914 the paper’s virtual editor – was 10 years younger than Blatchford. Born in Karlsruhe he always insisted that German was his first language and by the mid to late 1860s was living with his parents in Paris. At the age of 10 he witnessed the horrific suppression of the Paris Commune during the Semaine Sanglante (or ‘Bloody Week’) In the Edwardian years Thompson would enjoy a second career as a successful librettist of a number of musicals including at least one smash hit. But that’s running too far ahead of the story.

By the early 1880s Thompson was working on the Manchester-based Sporting Chronicle. Through his journalistic contacts he helped Blatchford get his first newspaper job with Bell’s Life in London.

This one one of the many publications of the rising press baron Edward Hulton who, after Blatchford had written some articles for it from 1885, took him on as a leader writer – a very well-paid job – for his new Manchester paper The Sunday Chronicle. It was at this stage that he acquired his long-term pen-name Nunquam (short for Nunquam dormio – I never sleep) which he used on a number of articles exposing the poverty and the often appalling living conditions of many in the Manchester area. These were published as The Nunquam Papers  in 1891. By the end of that year Blatchford left the Hulton empire to start the Clarion – I will give an account if this next time.

Meanwhile, it is enough to say that by that time Blatchford was committed to socialism. Later, in1907, he would give the following account to the Fortnightly Review.

I have never read a page of Marx. I got the idea of collective ownership from H.M. Hyndman the rest of my Socialism I thought out myself. English Socialism is not German: it is English. English Socialism is not Marxian; it is humanitarian. It does not depend upon any theory of “economic justice” but upon humanity and common sense.”

[Henry Hyndman was one of the main founders of the first socialist organisation in Britain in the early 1880s the – much misunderstood – Social-Democratic Federation.]


Clarion History

15 May 2018

Clarion History 

by Ian Bullock 

1. Me and the Clarion

Not long before I began my (part-time) research at Sussex University in 1975 I’d hardly heard of The Clarion– nor, although I’d been quite a keen (touring) cyclist since childhood – and CTC member since 1954 – had I heard of the Clarion Cycling Club. I was inspired, when I began my research, by Walter Kendall’s The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, 1900-1921, published in 1969. By this time I knew Walter very well.   In particular I was profoundly struck by the following statement in the concluding chapter of the book where he summed up the character of the British Left – or at least part of it – before the advent of Communism.

The revolutionary movement, before the transformation took place had been ultra democratic, opposed to leadership on principle, opposed to the professionalization of the Labour movement almost as an article of faith.

So, I began to explore the relationship between socialism and democracy in the British context before the First World War. Was Walter’s characterisation correct? After much reading of the sources – especially of newspapers, including of course The Clarion, and a great number of pamphlets and other writings – I came to the conclusion that, broadly, he was. The scope of my exploration was wider. Walter’s ‘revolutionary movement’ was basically the SDF/BSP, the SLP and what he called the ‘Radical Upsurge’ before and during the war which was much influenced by syndicalism and associated ideas. I was just as interested in the ILP- only the attempt of its ‘Left Wing’ to get the party to affiliate to the Comintern figures in Walter’s book – the movement centred on The Clarion and the decidedly and self-consciously not ‘ultra-democratic’ members of the Fabian Society.

There is not that much – apart from one or two biographies of Blatchford, his autobiography, My Eighty Years and that of his friend and virtual editorial partner A M Thompson – Here I Lie. The Memorial of an Old Journalist – and of course the late Denis Pye’s little book on the first 100 years of the cycling club – Fellowship is Life – that one can read on the Clarion. As I started my research there were two academic theses that I needed to study on the Clarion movement. There was Judith Fincher’s 1971 Manchester University MA thesis, ‘The Clarion Movement. A Study of a Socialist Attempt to Implement the Co-operative Commonwealth in England, 1891-1914’ and – just in time as I began my own research – Logie (or L.B J. as it says on the cover) Barrow’s 1975 London University PhD thesis ‘The socialism of Robert Blatchford and the “Clarion” movement, 1889-1918.’

My own D Phil thesis was completed in 1981 and later formed much of the book I did with Logie, Democratic Ideas and the British Labour Movement, 1880- 1914 (Macmillan, 1996)   Not the snappiest of titles, I admit – I have improved a bit since, I think, with Romancing the Revolution and Under Siege   not the mention the book I’m working on at the moment ‘The Drums of Armageddon’ of which a bit more in a moment or two. The Clarion and the Clarion movement feature a great deal in both my thesis and Democratic Ideas. ‘Drums’ – I pinched the title from Blatchford himself – looks at the reactions to the outbreak of the First World War in the three longest established Left-wing papers – one of them being The Clarion. I begin with the last month of peace – July 1914 – with the reactions to the Sarajevo assassination of 28th June and follow the diverging responses of the three papers until the end of the year.

By the time I’d finished being a part-time research student I knew a fair bit about the Clarion movement including something about the cycling club. But this aspect was not my main focus and I just assumed that like the paper itself – which closed in 1931 – the club had died sometime before World War II. The next bit I have told about before but not for a longish while so it will bear repeating. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s it was our practice to spend Easter with Sue’s parents in Nottingham. I would devise interesting – if usually very indirect such as up the centre of Wales or via Hadrian’s Wall – ways of spending a few days cycling to my parents-in-law staying in youth hostels on the way.

I can’t remember which year it was but it was the one where I cycled via East Anglia. I remember staying at the YHA at Martham on the Broads and then at Kings Lynn. The following day was the penultimate one of my trip and I stopped at the YH at Bourne, in Hereford the Wake territory in the Fens.

I was cooking something – well, probably just warming something up – in the Members’ Kitchen of the hostel. There were a couple of what seemed to me very ancient blokes there doing likewise. (They were probably about 20 years younger than I am now – but they seemed of a venerable age at the time) I noticed that one of them was wearing a large ’trumpet’ badge saying ‘Clarion.’ Now at this point I must explain that though the cycling activities associated with The Clarion had not been anywhere near the centre of my concern when reading – or at least skimming through – every edition of The Clarion up to 1914 I had become familiar with how the ‘Boots and Spurs’ business originated. I knew that it all came from one of Blatchford’s tales about his life in the army in the 1870s. He had told how in his barrack room it had become customary to take turns telling a story after ‘lights out’.   The problem was that people tended to go off to sleep before the tale was ended. So the practice grew of the storyteller, if he suspected that the rest of the room had dropped off, saying ‘Boots!’ Anyone still awake than had to respond ‘Spurs’ This was very well known to all readers of The Clarion, so at the first Easter Meet, when nobody knew what people from other areas looked like, it was used to identify cyclists coming into town for the Clarion meeting.   It subsequently became the standard greeting and response for everyone associated with the paper and its organisations.

Anyway, amazed at spotting the Clarion badge but somehow recalling the greeting which I then thought was a thing of the distant past I said ‘Boots!’   ‘Spurs!’ he replied in great surprise and asked me how I knew about all this. It turned out that he and his friend were on their way to the Easter Meet at Skegness – at least I think it was Skegness, certainly somewhere on the East Coast.   I was delighted to learn that far from disappearing the Clarion Cycling Club was still flourishing.   As soon as I got   back to Brighton I managed to find out how to join – a lot harder in those pre-internet days – and did so as a ‘private’ member. I’d no idea then that there had been a Brighton Clarion that seems to have fizzled out in the early 1950s. I renewed my membership every year for a while but then, preoccupied with other things – work, books – I let it lapse. But after I retired in September 2003 I made new enquires and discovered that you could start a new section with as few as 3 members. At the beginning of 2004 I recruited Joyce and the late Ted (or Ed as he later preferred) Fury which made up the necessary 3. Sheila Schaffer joined up almost immediately and took part – along with Joyce and me – in our first ride. It rained a lot – not an auspicious beginning – but, as they say, the rest is history.

Well, that’s (probably more than) enough about me. So …

Boots! Next time: The Clarion is born in 1891.

The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club and Cycling in the 1890s

15 December 2017

Some not so good advice from Clarion 11 December 1897

The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club and Cycling in the 1890s

29 November 2017

A bit of poetry – or at least verse from Clarion 18 December 1897. Sorry it’s not clearer.

The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club and Cycling in the 1890s

17 November 2017

From Clarion 4 December 1897.
Looks like another great invention that didn’t catch on!

The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club and Cycling in the 1890s

3 November 2017

As we have noted in the past, not all Clarion Cycling Clubs of the early days went in for much in the way of political propaganda. Indeed, Blatchford himself discouraged the more, shall we say extravagant, forms. But some did –and here is an example from 8 August 1896 which appeared as the first in a series of “Clarion Club Reports’ that week devoted to “Cycling Clubs.”