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.]



The Next Ride: Sunday 27 May 2018

15 May 2018

Christ’s Hospital to Pulborough

Rudgwick – Bucks Green – Tismans Common – Wisborough Green – Kirdford – Pallingham

This ride explores the far reaches of West Sussex – just this side of the Surrey border.

Leaving Christ’s Hospital station, we will ride for 5 miles along part of the Downs Link, the old railway line that runs from Shoreham to Guildford. Along the way we will see the famous “double bridge” over the river Arun, which features in the Downs Link logo.

Not long after leaving the Downs Link we arrive at the lunch stop – the “Mucky Duck” at Tisman’s Common. After lunch we continue south-westwards, and traverse the wonderfully-named (and indeed, wonderful!) Drungewick Lane, a little way along which we will encounter Drungewick Aqueduct, where the Wey & Arun Canal passes over the river Lox. This was, no doubt, a fine piece of engineering when it was first built, but the extensive restoration work, done by the canal trust after decades of neglect had done their worst, is also a thing of wonder.

At Wisborough Green we turn westwards without going anywhere near the dreaded A272. At Kirdford we turn south. Eventually we will come to a woodland known as The Mens, which is apparently an internationally important nature reserve.

The thing about having crossed the Arun at Rudgwick is that we now have to get back across it; and bridges here are few and far between. It seems most of the traffic passing over Pallingham Bridge has four legs, and despite this being part of the Wey-South Path, the result is not pretty, nor pleasant to walk on. (We will have to dismount, for sure). Unfortunately for Pallingham, this bridge, and the nearby quay, is the area’s main claim to fame. Pallingham is the tidal limit of the river, 25 miles from the sea. At 37 miles in total, the Arun is the longest river entirely in Sussex, according to Wikipedia.

Back on firmer ground, we’ll traverse a short, pleasant bridleway and then back onto tarmac for the long haul up the one serious hill, which ascends the ridge overlooking Pulborough and the lower Arun Valley. Then a long whizz downhill to Pulborough Station.

Length: 23 miles.

Duration: about 6 hours including lunch.

Terrain: Apart from half a mile of the B2133, all the roads and paths are quiet. The surface of the Downs Link is hard, compacted earth and stones, which may get slightly muddy if it rains. The track leading to the Arun bridge is bumpy, and around the bridge it may be very soft and uneven, but this does not go on for long. One hill (see above).

Start at Christ’s Hospital station at 10:45 am.

Getting there: The 9.42 Bedford train will get you to Christs Hospital on time, but the change at Three Bridges is only 7 minutes, which may be a problem if the Bedford train is late. I would recommend instead getting the 9.27 Victoria train and changing at Gatwick Airport, where we get 15 minutes. Get a return to Pulborough.

Getting back: There is one train an hour from Pulborough in each direction. It is possible to get to Brighton via either Three Bridges or Ford, taking roughly the same time (about 1.5 hours).


The Last Ride: 13 May 2018: Ford to Littlehampton (with added Yapton)

15 May 2018

This was a ride with a difference. The difference was that the lovely Binsted Wood, which we rode through on a nice quiet lane, is under threat from a road-building scheme which is poised to cut a huge, noisy, polluting swathe through the wood and cut it off from the nearby village. This despite an alternative, much simpler, and no doubt cheaper, option which merely bypasses the famous A27 bottleneck at Arundel station and avoids the wood altogether. Our leader, Angela D, handed out leaflets from the Save Binsted Wood campaign to every cyclist we met, and implored them to sign the petition and write to their MP. Please take the time to look at the website and support this campaign. There is a map showing the various options here.

Binsted Lane

Binsted Lane – by Jim

Angela led Angela C, Graham, Marilyn, Sikka, Wendy and me around a 15-mile route, painstakingly devised by her and Wendy, which featured two churches, a prison, and an aeroplane on a stick. We welcomed Graham on his first Clarion ride; he had found us via our excellent website, hand-crafted by our own Fred Pipes.


The Madonna Pond – by Wendy

We visited the Madonna Pond, and heard the fascinating story of local artist Lorna Wishart. We reached Climping via a delightful byway across a cornfield, but the proposed sea-bathing option was shelved due to the failure of the Met Office to deliver warm weather. The lunch menu, at the Black Horse in Climping, was uncharacteristically restricted, with almost nothing for veggies or vegans; I opted for cheesy chips, while Wendy’s chips were cheese-free, but only after rejecting a duplicate portion of the cheesy variety that had been produced by the chaotic food ordering system. However, any shortcomings in the lunch department were more than made up for by a truly excellent coffee stop at Edgcumbes in Ford Lane, with exotic drinks and delicious snacks all round.


Crossing the field – by Wendy

Reaching the River Arun at Littlehampton, Sikka and Graham decided to ride further east, while the remaining five of us rode down to the West Beach Café for ice cream, and a quick look at the old fort, whose defences have been rendered somewhat useless by the towering sand dunes that have built up in front of it. On the train back, we were entertained by a busker, and thanked Angela and Wendy for a memorable ride.



Wendy scampering up the dunes

Wendy scampering up the dunes – by Jim


15 May 2018

Dear All

Even more summer rides are now spoken for – but 10 June is still vacant.  Anyone? We’ll need a ride for description for the next newsletter, after Jim’s ride, if there is going to be one.

I realise that not everyone who reads this newsletter is interested in cycling as a sport. But our friend Peter Roscoe might never forgive me if I failed to point out that Simon Yates, currently leading the Giro D’Italia, generally regarded as the second most important 3 week race after the Tour de France, began cycling – together with his twin brother Adam – in the Bury Clarion

Latest from Julian

I rang Julian yesterday to see how he’s getting on and whether he needed anything. He says he has lots of helpers and feels he is making progress albeit quite slowly. You can contact him via

Proposed changes to the Highway Code

The following item in the current edition of Cycleclips rang a bell – or two:

Breaking bad habits

Is there any cyclist out there who hasn’t been passed too closely by an overtaking driver? Or been cut up by a left-turning vehicle? Or been ‘doored’ by a driver or passenger not looking behind them? These common acts of bad driving are very off-putting to experienced and budding cyclists alike, and we’re asking the Government to make some simple changes to The Highway Code to tackle them. Read more from our Campaigns Officer, Keir Gallagher, in the fourth blog of a series outlining some of the key proposals we’re making in our response to the Government’s review of cycling and pedestrian safety.

To find out what Cycling Uk is proposing by way of changes in the Highway Code go to Cycleclips on the website.

Clarion History

As you may have noticed it’s a while since I included the feature I ran for several years ‘The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club and Cycling in the 1890s’ in the newsletter. There are a number of reasons for this – I’ve been very busy with other things, I’m running short of material and for reasons I won’t bore you with it’s become more complicated to collect more.

Then I read the following in Jim’s email about Boots and Spurs – ‘Also there is the rich Clarion history that we have learned about from Ian – both the history of the cycling, and also the history of the wider Clarion movement.’   Well. I’ve done quite a bit on the cycling aspect – but not a great deal – in the newsletter – on the wider Clarion movement. So, encouraged by Jim, I’ll try to make amends.   I’m going to start this time with an account of how I came across both the paper and the cycling club. This will I hope, establish my ‘credentials’ for writing about all this.  Then next time – or, if not, sometime soon – I’ll give an account of how it came about that Blatchford started The Clarion at the end of 1891.


Bath-Bristol Weekend Ride: 1-2 September 2018

The weekend of 1-2 September will feature two wonderful rides. On the Saturday we will repeat the ride from Bath to Bristol that we last did in 2012, with some additional options. The Bath-Bristol cycle path was one of the first dedicated cycle paths to be created in the UK, and the route abounds with information boards about the area’s rich history. The basic ride will be about 25 miles long, but there will be longer and shorter options; as we have all day, we can take it nice and slowly (stopping to read the information boards is mandatory!)

The Sunday will feature the amazing Two Tunnels Greenway from Bath to Midford, which opened the year after our last visit. The two refurbished, dimly-lit railway tunnels on the former Somerset & Dorset line (one a mile long) create a unique experience which it is difficult to convey adequately in words. We’ll return to Bath via the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath, which we used last time. The circular ride is about 16 miles long. Being on old railway lines, both rides are largely undulation-free. If you need further convincing, take a look at the report from 2012. (Note that the tunnel pictured there is on the Bath-Bristol route – it’s not one of the Two Tunnels that we are doing this time).

So far, six of us have signed up for the weekend, but we would welcome more.

Most of us are staying in Bath Youth Hostel, but of course there are plenty of hotels in Bath if you don’t fancy the hostel. It will be necessary to travel to Bath on the Friday in order to leave enough time for the Saturday ride. The return journey can be on Sunday or Monday. (NB the hostel is unfortunately on a hill, so if you are seriously allergic to hills you might want to look elsewhere.)

Participants book their own accommodation; if you want to stay at the hostel, you will have to book soon as it is currently undergoing a partial rebuild and has fewer beds than usual. But do contact me first as there may be spare beds in rooms that have already been booked by members of our group.



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 Next Ride: Sunday 13 May 2018 – Ford via Binsted to Littlehampton

30 April 2018

This ride will take us through beautiful Binsted woods, currently threatened by the Arundel by-pass. I’m hoping Emma or Mike Tristram will be able to come and explain a little of what is proposed.

We will have a brief stop at the Norman church of St Mary Magdalen near a farmyard. Then we go on through the woods which should be full of bluebells at this time of year. We also pass Binsted church also very quaint but a little modernised by the Victorians. If time we can visit the Madonna pond with echoes of the famous trysts between Lorna Wishart and Laurie Lee.

South of the railway line there is a chance for morning coffee and then on down the Littlehampton road (not nice I’m afraid) for a short while until we get to a byway leading to the sea. Bathing optional (!) and then there is lunch at the Black Horse Inn Climping. From there we go via delightful lanes to Littlehampton and a return train.

Meet Brighton station at 10.15 for 10.30 train to Ford.
Train stops additionally at:
Hove 10.33
Portslade 10.38
Shoreham 10.45

Return trains from Littlehampton
16.15 to Hove, change Hove for Brighton
16.54 change at Ford for Brighton

My mobile number is
07814 457 680

Angela (D)

The Last Ride: Sunday 29 April 2018 – Emsworth to Fishbourne

30 April 2018

Pigs at Funtington

Jim met up with Sikka and Julia at Brighton Station, more riders had planned to be there but several fell by the wayside with sickness and tiredness! It was unexpectedly cold as we set off from Emsworth Station. We passed by a pig farm with fields of healthy looking pigs, and rode on through beautiful quiet lanes and the pretty villages of Westbourne, Southbourne and Funtington.

Notice in Watery Lane

Here was the delight of Watery Lane, where a clear, fast moving stream attracted Mallard ducks and Sikka discovered a mother with eight tiny fluffy ducklings.

Black swan at West Ashling

Then, at West Ashling pond, Julia provided Nairn’s oatcakes to feed a lone black swan and unidentified mottled ducks. Also, Jim was delighted to identify several black and white tufted ducks proving that Julian’s suggestion, from the last sighting, was correct.

Geese at West Ashling

A group of ‘honking’ geese sent us on our way and we continued on to Bosham and the Anchor Bleu pub for lunch. Fortunately, Jim had booked a table and it was a lovely surprise to sit upstairs looking out of a picture window onto the Bosham channel. We all enjoyed the good food and pleasant service.

After lunch we were able to cycle around the edge of the quay towards Fishbourne. The road was still very wet and slippery with clumps of seaweed in the wake of the outgoing tide, a novel experience!

Sikka and Julia on a wet road at Bosham

We stopped for afternoon tea at Fishbourne and then sped on to Chichester feeling happy and satisfied by a wonderful day out… thanks to Jim!

Sikka & Julia

Amphibious vehicles only!