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.


Next time The Clarion and Labour Leader


The Next Ride: Sunday 22 July 2018

16 July 2018

Berwick to Polegate

This ride takes us through leafy shady byways and eventually on to the Cuckoo trail. We go through beautiful Abbotswood. There is a possible early morning ‘lagos’ stop in Hailsham – delicious Hungarian rolled up pizza- you can have small, very small portions because our main stop is in Cowbeech at The Merrie Harriers with wonderful views across the Sussex weald.

We do some miniature undulations to get on to the Pevensey levels and then detour back to the Cuckoo trail to end up in Polegate.

The distance is approximately, or about, 26 miles.

Train 10.05 Brighton arrive Berwick 10.32

Train Polegate 50 minutes past the hour.

Meet 09.45 Brighton station

Angela and Wendy

The Last Ride. Nick’s Report

16 July 2018

Sunday 8 July 2018: Barnham to Southbourne

July 8, 2018: Barnham to Southbourne

Clarion cyclists: L-R Tessa, Wendy, Sikka, David, Jim, Graham, Nick

As the 2018 July heatwave continued, seven Clarion cyclists gathered in Barnham station for the start of a promising new ride devised by Jim. (Not that new! See here – Jim)

Sunday newspaper headlines were all enthusing about the progress England had been making in the World Cup, so the Clarion cyclists decided to take the advice of England’s manager and ‘create their own history’ as they headed out on the highway for a 20 mile cycle ride.

Our first break, a couple of miles after leaving Barnham, was an unscheduled one. Jim had to perform an emergency pit stop operation on his bike chain in order to continue with the ride. Although Jim’s DIY skills left him with impressively greasy hands, we were all relieved that his bike was roadworthy again.

July 8, 2018: Barnham to Southbourne

Aldingboune Country Centre was the first official cycle stop for the group and was a good place for some of us to drink coffee, annotate maps and sample iced lollies away from the heat outside.

The ruined 12th century Boxgrove Priory was our next stop and was well worth the slight detour required to visit it.

One of the attractions of Jim’s route was that it was, as he promised, ‘very flat’. The Centurion Way was a great way to cycle to our lunch destination and included very welcome tree shade from the day’s 30 degree heat.

Sitting in a comfy chair with the iced water served at Wellies Restaurant could have been sufficient for me to recover from the morning’s exertions, but I decided to also ask for the serious cyclist’s meal of choice: a bowl of chips.

July 8, 2018: Barnham to Southbourne

Salads, baguettes & quiche were also popular with my Clarion comrades. Possibly the biggest attraction in Wellies was Hardy, the extremely friendly restaurant dog, who befriended us all.

July 8, 2018: Barnham to Southbourne

After lunch, the route took us to Southbourne railway via the local villages of West Stoke, West Ashling (the weather really was too hot for the ducks & swans trying to shelter in shade under the trees around the duck pond) and Funtington.

The final planned stop for the group was for tea and cake in the Woodmancote pub. I don’t usually combine alcohol and cycling, but felt a pint of cider was a good way to cope with the hot weather.

July 8, 2018: Barnham to Southbourne

It was only a 10 minute cycle ride from the Woodmancote pub to Southbourne railway station and the train journey home. We all agreed that Jim’s planning, combined with exceptionally fine weather, had contributed to a great day out. I’m not quite sure why this was my first Clarion ride in nearly two years, but I really must try and return again very soon!


July 8, 2018: Barnham to Southbourne

Sikka, Wendy and Jim admiring tandems at the Woodmancote pub


16 July 2018

Dear All

This message from Leon is very worrying, but I know he is anxious that we don’t contact him with sympathetic messages. He knows, I’m sure that we all wish the best possible for him and are thinking of him.

Invisible Members

The warm weather has been so welcome over the last week or so and I hope you’ve been safely enjoying it while it lasts.

Some of our more senior members of the Brighton and Hove Clarion seem to be spending their Sundays relaxing or are unable to join the local group rides due to illness, unfortunately I’ve also become one of the invisible members. It is with great regret that I will need to remain unavailable to lead or ride for the unknown future. The reason; my cancer has returned and is being quite destructive. I will be back on Chemotherapy via a PICC line, a mobile device with a belt mounted pump. This, it is hoped, may slow the cancer’s progress, but not stop it unfortunately. My cancer has caused me to lose more body mass and the chemo will no doubt to that. So there we have it. It’s now fingers crosses that, who knows with some good fortune I may be able to attend a short ride sometime and be my usual grumpy self again.


I was really upset not take part in the ‘Round the World’ challenge. I had registered and fully intended to take part. My knee/leg problems of earlier in the year seemed to have gone away and I was even thinking I might offer a ride for 19 August.  Then I had a relapse and all that went out of the proverbial window.  I intensified my physio exercises and still hoped I’d be OK on the day – even put my cycling gear on when I got up that Sunday morning.  But it soon became evident that I wasn’t  up to it. But my sponsors all agreed to send the cash in, so the cause didn’t lose out Thanks, Roger, for doing a lap for me, (see below)



The Greater Brighton Cycle Challenge – Sunday July 1st

Roger’s Report

What glorious weather! One of the hottest days of the year (so far!), but with a moderate breeze from the north. Perhaps not the conditions you would choose for a lengthy ride through the Sussex hills, or a (communal) attempt to cycle almost 70,000 laps of the Preston Park velodrome.

But it was the day of the Greater Brighton Cycle Challenge. So, plenty of cyclists donned their helmets (compulsory) and their lycra (optional) and their sun cream (sensible) to help raise funds for Brighton Housing Trust (BHT).

Clarion was well represented. Mick did the big one, the 58 mile “Living Coast” ride. It started at the velodrome, heading east to Newhaven, then Lewes. Wivelsfield Green, Hurstpierpoint, Bramber, Shoreham and back to Preston Park to receive a well-deserved medal.

Meanwhile Jim and Graeme did the 30 mile “Devil’s Dyke Loop”. This one headed north to Poynings, Fulking and Small Dole where it joined the 58 mile route for the ride through Shoreham (with its tempting train station) and the final stretch along the coast back into Brighton.

Meanwhile back at Preston Park Ann, Suzanne, Richard and myself (with moral support from Fred) were slogging round the velodrome helping to push the total number of laps towards the 69,215 target – allegedly the equivalent of the World’s circumference. Impressively, Graeme also added a few laps when he had completed his 30 mile route.

One of my 30 laps was for Ian who was all set to join us on the “Round the World ride” but had to drop out because of a continuing problem with his leg.

Of course, there was the group photo, taken in front of a shiny Brighton and Hove bus, displaying the club name on its route indicator!

A very enjoyable day full of good humour, good will and hopefully a useful boost to BHT’s fund-raising efforts.



Clarion History – 5 The Clarion and the founding of the ILP

16 July 2018

The Clarion began publication in December 1891.  1892 was an important year in British politics in several ways.  The election in July brought the 82 year old Gladstone back to Downing Street for a final  time. [He lasted until 1894 when he was defeated – again – on Home Rule for Ireland  by the House of Lords] It also saw Dadabhai Naoroji the first British MP of Indian origin elected– as a Liberal for Finsbury Central.

Three ‘Labour’ candidates were also elected. Havelock Wilson, founder and president of the National Sailors’ and Fireman’s Union was elected against Liberal opposition as an ‘Independent Labour’ candidate. But he soon nevertheless aligned himself with the Liberals. John Burns, who had come to prominence in 1889 in the London Dock Strike, christened ‘the man with the red flag’ by the press, was elected as a Liberal. He was on the Radical wing of the Liberal Party, would oppose the ‘Boer War’ and resign as a minister when war broke out in 1914.

That left Keir Hardie as the most unequivocally ‘independent Labour’ success. He created a stir by refusing to dress up – complete with top hat – for the House of Commons and was supposed to have worn a ‘flat cap’ – actually a deerstalker hat. By this time, as I mentioned last time, a number of local parties like the Bradford Labour Union and the Manchester and Salford Independent Labout Party had come into existence.

There was a growing demand that they should link up and form an national organisation. There was support from the Clarion and from Joseph Burgess paper the Workman’s Times which collected over 3,000 signatures supporting this. The 1892 TUC had set up a committee which then called what turned out to be the founding conference of the Independent Labour Party – ILP from now on – in January 1893. The two-day conference took place, appropriately, in Bradford.

Hardie was elected as chair. Many people who took no further part in the ILP – e g George Bernhard Shaw and various other Fabians, and a few SDF branches took part in the conference.  The Clarion supported the proposal to call the new organisation  the Socialist Labour Party and especially to adopt the ‘Manchester Fourth Clause’  which I explained in the last edition.  Nevertheless the conference adopted as its object ‘to secure the collective and communal ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’. For the moment the Clarion could act as the unofficial spokesperson of the new movement. But all this was to change the following year, 1894, when Hardie set up his new weekly the Labour Leader. This began a rivalry, both personal and political, which I will return to in later episodes. But next time something a bit different.


Next time Merrie England


The Next Ride: Sunday July 8th 2018

7 July 2018

Barnham to Southbourne

(formerly Abrogam to Mutantsod) – NOTE REVISED ROUTE

 I have managed to find a substitute ride after Network Rail’s treachery ruled out the Haywards Heath one. It’s a linear ride, including the lovely Aldingbourne Country Centre as a morning coffee stop, then after Waterbeach we’ll turn westwards onto the Lavant Straight and skirt Goodwood Aerodrome; at Lavant we’ll ride a very short section of the Centurion Way, leaving it as usual at the amphitheatre, but taking the lane north-westwards to the lovely Wellies Restaurant at Oldwick Farm in West Stoke Road, where we will have lunch at about 1.20.

After lunch there will be a tour of local villages, including most of: West Stoke, East Ashling, West Ashling, Funtington. There will be a tea stop at the wonderful bike-friendly pub in Woodmancote, beloved of our comrades in Gosport Clarion. Finally back home via Southbourne.

Mileage: 20 miles

Duration: About 5½ hours including lunch, tea and coffee stops

Terrain: Very flat. Quiet lanes, half a mile of Centurion Way, and a short bit of A285. As it’s been dry, I would like to try the delightful Tinwood Lane, a nice woodland path which we eschewed last time because it was muddy. It may be bumpy though. There will be no suicidal crossings of the A27.

Start at Barnham Station at 10:50

Getting there: Take the 10:00 Southampton train from Brighton (Hove 10:04, Shoreham 10:17).

Return trains to Brighton at 41 minutes past the hour. Our tea stop is only 15 minutes’ ride from Southbourne so we can leave at an appropriate time to catch it.

Just a final note – I see that my previous attempts to do this ride were both dogged by railway problems. The first occasion was cancelled, the second did happen but we had to go via Three Bridges. Let’s hope this one makes up for all the grief.

Finally finally – anyone seeking to comprehend the subtitle may find the answer in the Clarion archives, or you may just be able to work it out on your own! If not, ask me over a pint.




The Last Ride: Sunday 24 June 2018 – Downslink Revisited

29 June 2018

The weather promised to be pleasant for Graham’s ride, and it kept that promise of sun and a little light breeze.

The Downslink as impressionist painting

This picture of the Downslink, taken on the move, resembles a French Impressionist paiting. In fact, it turns out that Camille Pissarro, after painting Lordship Lane station in London, got really into railways and decided to visit the Horsham-Shoreham line. Unfortunately he got hit by a train and fell into a deep coma by the side of the track, waking only in 2018 to paint this picture …..

Despite Southern Railways’ best efforts to thwart us Graham, Wendy, Sikka, Jim and Richard all made it to Christ’s Hospital Horsham on time. Graham had warned of iguanodons en route. He was correct. One such posed with us for a photo, but we could not tarry longer.

Wendy and Sikka riding the iguanodon

Wendy and Sikka riding the Southwater iguanodon

The Downslink beckoned and splendid it was. Downhill most of the way and many a leafy corridor with views across the fields. Our morning coffee stop was at the almost legendary Stan’s Bike Shed, a sort of bike-friendly scout hut cum Costa Coffee on the edge of a field.

Coffee stop at Stan's

L-R Wendy, Graham, Sikka, Richard

After same and a good scenic spin we arrived at The Plough. All I think agreed on the quality and quantity of the Sunday roasts provided. Following lunch, a futher ride down to Shoreham along the Adur. The formal ride concluded there but some headed for the sea for a dip or a paddle and then tea in West Hove.

First crossing of the Adur, at Betley Bridge

First crossing of the Adur

An excellent day out and much thanks to Graham for his patient leadership and navigation.

Richard (S)