A reprint of its original Manifesto with an introduction and notes by Reg Groves


THE Catholic Crusade was founded on the evening of Wednesday, April 10th, 1918, at Thaxted Vicarage.

Few organisations can have had so inauspicious a start. Less than a dozen people came to the meeting, [1] and of them, only the Vicar, Conrad Noel was known at all outside the little Essex town. The war was in its fourth year; most of the younger men, and the most likely supporters of the new group were away on distant battlefields; and attention of people at home was fastened anxiously on bloody fighting in France, where Allied armies were reeling back before an immense German offensive.

The handful of people at the Vicarage resolved none the less to set up "the Catholic Crusade of the Servants of the Precious Blood to transform the Kingdoms of the world into the Commonwealth of God". Early on the morning of Saturday, April 13th, some of them on their way to work at Thaxted's sweet factory, attended the first Crusade mass, held in the Becket chapel of the old church. A short statement of aims, rules and methods had been drawn up, and handwritten copies were reproduced on a jelly for distribution to selected prospective members.

Members came along slowly during the rest of that year, but though numbers grew as the Thaxted men, and sympathisers among Church Socialists, came back from the war, there were never very many, [2] for the Crusade was always selective and asked a great deal of its members. During its eighteen years existence, [3] it never had more than two or three hundred members. It remained a handful, but enough of a handful to make itself seen and heard with effect on numerous occasions and in several places.

PRIME mover in the formation of the Catholic Crusade was Conrad Noel, who in 1918 was forty-nine years old, and had been Vicar of Thaxted for eight years, his first living since his ordination in 1894, the intervening years having been spent in energetic propaganda work for Christian Socialism among socialist workingmen and churchgoers, patched with occasional, precarious but by no means always fruitless curacies. A popular figure on socialist platforms, Noel was one of the socialist parsons who, under stimulus of the sensational Liberal Party election victory of 1906, and the appearance in Parliament of 29 nominally independent Labour Members, had founded in July of that year the Church Socialist League, a body more political in its aims and more directly involved in the labour movement than its predecessor, the Guild of St. Matthew.

The League's organising secretary from 1907 to 1910; and its most flamboyant personality, Noel during these years was telling audiences of socialist workingmen and women that the Church was founded to be "the Social Democratic organ of the Kingdom"; that "the Sacraments were social pledges of the Kingdom"; that "the creeds had a Social Democratic significance"; that the Liturgy was "soaked in Socialism"; and that "the Church of England, in taking her stand at the Reformation on not the Bible only, but the Bible as interpreted by early Church writers, is possibly committed to communist principles which go beyond our modest Socialist proposals. "

Churchgoers, Noel argued, "must at least be Socialists and work with their fellow Socialists, Christian and non-Christian alike, for .the establishment of God's international commonwealth." In economic Socialism was to be found "the practical and scientific form for our own day and in one important sphere for the realisation of those very objects which the Church has always had at heart." Though Noel did not believe that economic Socialism alone could create and sustain a true socialist commonwealth, he did share with Socialists of all sorts its basic proposals and assumptions. But by 1910 these were in question; many were saying that economic socialism as generally understood and accepted could, in the hands of a bureaucratic state, become a means not of enfranchisment but of economic subjection. Many of the younger men were turning from Labour, Fabian and Liberal reformist politics to the advocacy of militant industrial action; and the workers themselves, in a series of widespread strikes, were displaying a temper unknown in Britain since Chartist times. [4]

Yet Noel's opinions on what had to be done, and how it had to be done, in church and state, remained unchanged in essentials. He seemed satisfied that the Church Socialist League would continue to grow in numbers and influence, and that change in the Church would be accelerated. A few months before becoming Vicar of Thaxted, [5] Noel wrote, "What is urgently needed is a reinterpretation of the creeds and their application to the practical life of man, the democratisation of the Church, an effective desire to meet both Nonconformists, Atheists and Agnostics, listen to their criticisms, and, with their help, rebuild the national religion, without sacrificing a single essential principle." That someone as audacious as Conrad Noel should have made proposals so potential of that procrastination in which the Establishment excelled, showed how badly new inspiration was needed. Thaxted was to provide it.

IN the small, and apparently somnolent, Essex town, Noel was less fettered by his obligations to movements of the day and hour; and it was as though liberated imaginatively by the spell of the place itself that he improvised and adapted freely. If, Prospero-like, he called forth votaries, and they came, children, lads and lasses, working men and women, eager to play their parts in the pageant of the social gospel as it unfolded against the old stones of the hauntingly beautiful church, it was because the commoners were waiting for just such a summons. If Prospero conjured from his spirits of fire and air the music and drama of creation, and his themes were those of estrangement, redemption through suffering, and reconciliation, whereas Noel shaped the drama of the mass, the music, the teaching and the common life of the church to contemporary urgencies, and made of it all a summons to social salvation and a premonition of Christ's Kingdom on Earth, yet Noel drew much of his symbolism and ceremony from medieval life, which in turn was rooted in the rites and beliefs of antiquity and pre-history; and so he, too, touched those deeper strains of poetry and imagination which had to do with the eternal verities of God, Man, and Nature. [6]

Noel, of course, called forth not spirits but people, who were, like himself, fallible and contentious, and whose mental and emotional responses were often abridged by circumstances and the claims of faction. Unlike Prospero, Noel could not control the Calibans of property ("This Island's mine by Sycorax my mother") nor assuage the embittering consequences of the conflicts and injustices of a society divided into rich and poor, with the poor themselves divided into the rebellious, the apathetic, and the hangers-on of the rich. But the response to the social gospel and its outward and imaginative manifestations convinced Noel that what he called the whole Catholic religion was essential to social revolution and social salvation, and that the Church Socialist League could activate the rebel movements and the Church only along these lines. He pointed out that the Church Socialist League was open to anyone who belonged to the Church of England and was an economic socialist; he drew attention to theological doctrines held by members which were the equivalent of capitalist individualism, and urged the League to base its membership and activities on a restated and renovated Catholic theology.

Discussions on the theology of social democratic catholicism [7] took place in the Church Socialist League, and at private gatherings at Thaxted. Most League members, however, remained obdurate in their conviction that Protestants could be Socialists (If members of the Church of England); and though the Thaxted talks were more useful, no agreed body of doctrine emerged from them. Discussions, renewed intermittently, faded with the outbreak of war in August, 1914; the League's membership and activities diminished; its very future seemed unsure. Noel was stirred to renewed assault on the quiescent members by the Irish Rebellion of Easter, 1916, [8] with its passionate affirmation that without the shedding of blood there could be no social or national redemption. In the autumn of that year, at a long-overdue League conference, Noel presented the document, Some Articles of the Faith to the Executive, asking that it be placed before conference as the proposed basis for future League membership and work. This the Executive refused to do -- though the document was read to the Conference -- whereat Noel resigned, intending, according to the report in the Church Socialist, to start .."A Company of the Redemption, to embody his reading of the great truths and implications embodied in our Catholic faith." [9]

It was to be another nineteen months before the new group was founded, months that brought two revolutions in Russia and the final agonies of the war. By the time of the Armistice, the Crusade's first handwritten statement had given way to a printed one, and, before the end of that year, Noel and others had composed a manifesto, The Catholic Crusade, which was to remain the definitive statement of the group.

It was all of a piece; matter and manner were fused with remarkable success in the manifesto, which caught up in its vigorous prose not only the revolutionary excitements of the hour but also a centuries-old native rebel and socialist tradition. [10] With its publication, the Crusade began enrolling members, in Thaxted from the young men returning from the war and the young women returning from munition factories in the north; and elsewhere from members of the Church Socialist League and the National Guilds League.

The Crusade was selective; a period of probation was enforced on applicants; and only after scrutiny and debate at the Crusade's annual Chapter could full membership be granted. This kept down the number of recruits, but the main reason why the Crusade grew so slowly was that it could create its groups and common life only around a parish church conducted by a Crusade priest; it made its point not only, or even mainly, in words, but in the life of the church and the parish; in ceremony as well as socialism, in sacrament as well as sermon, in plainsong as well as politics.

But livings were not to be had by Crusade priests. [11] Bishops were hostile, to the Socialism or the Catholicism, and quite often to both. Even tolerant Vicars recoiled from the furore created by a Crusade curate or assistant priest, and found it too much to endure for long. At the socialism and ceremonial, at the excitement among the young, at the sight of the church filling up with "dissenters and riff-raff", regular churchgoers protested, wealthy patrons departed, collections fell, and the Bishop often began pressing the Vicar to bring his curate to heel or sack him. "I know that you are doing God's work," cried one unhappy Vicar to a Crusade curate, "but why, oh why, did he send you to me?"

Only where exceptional circumstances made prolonged stay possible for the Crusade priests -- as at Burslem, Delabole and Poplar -- was it possible for the Crusade's point to be made, fluently and powerfully, though sometimes in part only, and then despite much harassment by the authorities; and in such places it was shown that the Church of the Establishment, of the powers-that-be, could become again the church of the true English nation, and that the common people, long excluded, often hostile, responded eagerly to the social gospel in industrial as well as in rural areas. [12]

That it was attempted at all was surprising enough. That, now , and then, it seemed a foretelling of the jocund world to be; that, once in a while, it seemed to renew and restate the myths and paradisal dreams of the centuries; and that it gave to the vision a local habitation and a name, was indeed a remarkable achievement.

More than half-a-century separates us from that obscure April day in 1918 when a handful of people founded the Catholic Crusade. The golden lads and girls are old, or have, as chimney sweepers, come to dust. Little that is tangible remains, only a fragment of the dream held in the words of the Manifesto. Contemplating the baseness of spirit infecting increasingly our culture and our common life, the savage exploitation and destruction of our natural resources, and the behaviour of the modern reprobates of socialism and communism, what the Manifesto of the Catholic Crusade tried to say grows not diminishes in wisdom and relevance as the years roll by.

Reg Groves




Love not the World.-- l John II. 15

IF YOU BELIEVE with the Catholic teachers of the Ages of Faith, that Liberty, Equality, Fraternity are not "extras" and "implications," but Essential Articles of the Faith, without which Creed and Worship are turned into deadly poisons;

IF YOU BELIEVE that every man should master be of his own life in freedom, spiritual, economic, political, delighting not only in his leisure, but in his craft, having his lot in such personal and common ownership as shall encourage initiative in fellowship; master of, and not mastered by, machinery; neither exploiter nor exploited; an owner under God, not a wage-slave under Mammon; if you detest the atheism revealed in such sayings as "keeping a servant," and would replace mistress and slavey by the co-operation of comrades; if you demand an education which shall encourage initiative, responsibility, mastery; if you accept natural inequalities not for self aggrandisement, but for service; if you are fighting not merely for elbow room and comforts within the present structure, but to destroy the present structure, because it denies and refuses the principles of human life; if you believe that everyone should be slave of no man, servant of all men, son of God;

IF YOU BELIEVE in Nationality; in a national community of free families; in the right of every nation, small or great, Ireland, Germany, England, Poland, Russia, Belgium, etc., to be a Sinn Fein (ourselves -- Independent) Republic, not trying to live in isolation, nor domineering over other nations, but of its own free choice desiring inter-dependence;

IF YOU BELIEVE in the International; if you are convinced that Nationality is evil when it denies the International, and that the International is evil when it scoffs at Nationality, and is based on a shallow cosmopolitanism; if you accept the Catholic philosophy which, in the great Reforming Councils of the Middle Ages, encouraged the development of nationalities in Community, and if you are proud to be the children of that movement;

IF YOU BELIEVE in the unity of the nation, built up by the variety, distinction, individuality of its citizens; if you believe in the unity of the international, built up by the variety, distinction and individuality of the nations within it; if you believe in a Free League of Democratic Nations, based on Friendship as against a Compulsory League of Capitalist States based on Fear; [13] in a word,

IF YOU BELIEVE in the Blessed Trinity [14] and a Divine Commonwealth steeped in the worship of the Social God, in the Blessed Trinity, One-in-Many, Many-in-One, VARIETY IN UNITY, not as a senseless dogma for Sundays only, [15] but as the basis and meaning of all human life; if you believe in re-creating the world in the similitude of The Social God, in whom we live and move and have our being; if, in the love of This God you hate the present world which denies freedom, stifles initiative, poisons commonwealth, and will destroy it, or be destroyed in the attempt,


IF YOU BELIEVE that the Catholic Religion is not indifferent to forms of Government, and, while it is consistent with varying types of Government, is compelled to oppose Absolute Monarchy, Group Autocracy, Imperialism, Capitalism,



IF YOU BELIEVE with the Catholic Religion that Avarice, or excessive desire for gain, is a Mortal Sin; that the Present World or System is the expression of this Sin; that it must therefore be destroyed, not reconstructed; if you believe that wagery is a form of slavery, and that all slavery is ultimately incompatible with the Catholic Religion; if you believe the Catholic Doctrine that if any will not . work neither shall he eat, and agree to the Catholic Law which suppressed interest, profiteering, rent, and other devices, in so far as they were devices to eat without working, and to live comfortably on the results of other people's labour; if you will do your best to destroy the Present System involving these evil things, even if it is paying you so much per cent., and are glad that these payments should quickly cease, whether you are ruined or not; if you believe with the great Catholic teachers of the Ages of Faith that Labour and Land are the ultimate source of all wealth; that the earth is the Lord's and the products thereof, and the earth hath He given to the children of men; if you believe that all men should learn and labour truly to get their own living in that new Commonwealth of God's Justice to which He is calling them,



IF YOU WOULD destroy the "kept" Press and fight for freedom of expression; if you would destroy the Capitalist Parliament and build a People's Republic; if you would abolish classes, artificial distinctions, snobbery; if, while you know the most deadly tyrants are not kings but financiers, speculators, captains of industry, you would also, with St. Thomas of Canterbury, destroy that nest of flunkeys, the Court; if, while you measure swords with the New Plutocracy, you are ashamed of that ancient fraud which calls itself the old Aristocracy; if you are striving for such a transformation as shall make it possible to substitute "O Lord, save the Commonwealth," for "O Lord, save the King,"


to defeat the Welfare Workers, social reformists and patronizers of the poor, who would bolster up the class system, and attempt to reconstruct it by softening the asperities between class and class.

IF, while you believe in dancing, colour, merry-making, you are not deluded into thinking that these things can be restored, while Justice, Comradeship, and Liberty are refused,




IF YOU BELIEVE in the priestly Commonwealth; in "sons not servants," in intelligent response not slavish obedience; if you believe in the grace of the leader in Church or State and the recognition of the alert community; if you believe that the Laity are not drones in the Christian hive nor subjects of an Autocracy, but creative and responsive fellow-workers with the leaders; if you believe in creative consent, not in languid acquiescence; if you believe in the Catholic People whose Episcopal leaders were elected through an equal suffrage of men and women in democratic succession from the first revolutionaries of Jesus, in communion, by recognition with other chosen leaders of the world-wide Christian democracy; if you are proud that these leaders, in the great formative periods, were often bricklayers, market porters, carpenters, blacksmiths, ploughmen, masons, tanners, weavers; if you believe in alert response and loyalty to inspired leaders, coupled with the Catholic right of vigilance, criticism, and rejection; if you believe, with the great Catholic teachers of the Ages of Faith that this response to leadership and right of rebellion is not only true in relation to Church officers, but to officers of the State; if you believe that there are no rights without responsibilities, and that the right of election belongs only to those who are willing to work, and in the case of Church officers not to ratepayers or members of a National Church as such, but to those who respond to the requirements of the Catholic conviction;

IF YOU BELIEVE in the Catholic doctrine of the Common Authority, and not in modern Papist, Anglican, or Protestant substitutes for that doctrine,

IF YOU BELIEVE, with the Catholic teachers [17], that all Authority comes from God, expressing Himself more remotely through the Race, more immediately through the Catholic Democracy and its natural leaders, -- from God, through the People, for the Common Good;

IF YOU BELIEVE that they are the rebels who rule unjustly, and that such rebels, be they Kings or Plutocrats, Bishops or Popes, must be overthrown by all law-abiding Christians; if you believe in the Revolt against tyrants in Church and State; if you are prepared to fight not only the Servile State, but the Servile Church,



IF YOU BELIEVE not in snap majorities of the moment, but in the common judgement of the ages; that the swift decision of the present must be formed out of the matured conviction of the ages; that sudden rebellions must be rooted in such common traditions,




IF YOU BELIEVE in the Fierce Love of God behind the blow given and the blow withheld; if you believe in the Mercy of God to the meek and the fury of God to the profitmongers who assist at Mass or in the chapel, for a pretence make the long prayer; if you believe in the non-resistance of Christ in petty personal quarrels, and the resistance of Christ in God's quarrel for Commonwealth; if you believe in Calvary interpreted in the light of the whole gospel and not of your favourite activist or passivist text; if you believe in the suasion of Francis of Assissi, and Sword of Joan of Arc; if you believe that persuasion is the first weapon and violence the last in the Christian armoury; that the Christ who brings not peace but a sword, and who used compulsion in the Temple, would draw men to His Kingdom rather than drive them, for "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to me,"



IF, in spite of the cry of the comfortable classes, "Behold the men who have turned the world upside down are come hither also," you believe, with St. Thomas Aquinas [18] and other Catholic teachers, voicing the Common Tradition, that the Commonwealth may confiscate private possessions, and that the workers may seize necessaries and dispossess the plutocrats, when no other means of transforming the Nation are available; if you find yourself as naturally on the side of revolution as others find themselves against it; if you believe in seizing power from below and not in social sops from above; if you believe in doing things swiftly for yourselves instead of waiting for "enabling Bills," a better system, or till the rich fling you a few slices of what you want, or the bishops allow you to do what the Church commands you to do, or till the great Slug-God Evolution evolves something, or Progress pushes you down into Hell, --

HELP THE CATHOLIC CRUSADE to shatter the British Empire and all Empires to bits, wrestling against principalities and Kaiserdoms and highly-placed powers; To Create a Free England in a Communion of Free Nations -- a Free England,
IN WHICH, in the freedom of the Redeemer, the last shall be first and the first last;
IN WHICH, in the Spirit of Saint John the Herald, the valleys shall be raised and the hills levelled;
IN WHICH, by the prayers of Saint James, the workers shall rejoice in that they are exalted, and the plutocrats in that they are brought low;
IN WHICH, in the eager desire of Our Lady, the mighty shall be dragged from their seat, the hungry filled, the rich sent empty away;
IN WHICH, in the prophecy of Saint John the Evangelist, the traffickers in oil and wheat and cattle and the bodies and souls of men shall lament, as the smoke of their burning cities ascends to the heavens;
IN WHICH, in the hope of Saint Cyprian, [19] the essentials of life shall not be held by the few to the exclusion of the many;
IN WHICH, in the teaching of Saint Ambrose, [20] the common property of the people shall be restored and all enslaving ownership disallowed;
IN WHICH, following Saint Gregory, [21] who sent us Our Religion, the land will be for the workers, and none shall be owned by the shirkers.
IF YOU BELIEVE, with the Catholic Clergy who led the 1381 rebellion [22] , that things cannot go well in England till the rich disgorge and there be neither master nor man;
IF YOU BELIEVE, with the Catholics who led the 1450 rebellion [23], that we must withstand the malice of those who are destroyers of the common profit;
IF YOU BELIEVE, with the Catholics who led the 1549 rebellion [24], that the people have no right any longer to bear such cruel injuries, nor the avarice, excess, or pride of the rich for --
WE will rather take arms, and mix heaven and earth together than endure so great cruelty,



IF YOU BELIEVE that the cowardice which holds men from the Cause, the despondency that suggests that "it's human nature," "it always was so," "nothing can be done," is that creeping paralysis of the soul which Holy Church calls The Mortal Sin of Apathy,



IF YOU BELIEVE, with many Catholic Schoolmen, that were the Faith to perish in Popes, Bishops, Priests and most of the Laity, both men and women, it might be preserved in the lives of a few illiterates or the hearts of a handful of children,



IF YOU HAVE turned aside with disgust from the wrangles of the religious as to which is the true and only water-tight ark to float you securely to a comfortable heaven; if you believe that the basis of reunion is not outward adjustment but the recovery in all Communions of basic things, for it is only when things are molten that they can be fused; if you refuse any longer to be spoon-fed with the soothing syrup of the pulpits, or to be satisfied by nice hymns sung for you by nice choir boys; if you hate the smugness of dissent, the self-satisfaction of the "real Catholics," the safeties of the Central party and its glorified matins, and have ceased to care whether or no they really are all aiming at the same place, seeing that that place is a glucose heaven that has never attracted you; if you feel that the raucous revolutionaries are nearer to God than the modern religionists who betray their Leader with a kiss;


IF YOU are prepared to fight the soul-savers with their Glory-for-me religion, and to join the soul-losers for Christ's Cause with their Glory-for-all religion; if you believe with Christ that those who fuss about their own souls will lose them, while those who forget them in the battle for His New World, the same shall save them unto life over-mastering; if you believe it is not worth while trying to put oneself to rights for the sake of one's own rotten little isolated soul, but is worth while for the sake of God and Man and the Cause -- for what shall a man give in exchange for his Soul? yet how save the soul apart from comradeship?



IF YOU REJECT the fallacy that the "Mass alone matters," seeing that many who assist at Mass will most assuredly be damned; if you see that the Sacraments have been turned by the pietists into blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits; if you refuse the "Jesus only" of the devotionalists, demanding the "only Jesus" whom they reject -- the Rebel, born in the shed of a public house, who called his King a silly jackal, who broke the conventions of society, who defied the world, broke the law, was hunted by the police, and was destroyed by the coalition of the worldings and the next worldings,



IF YOU BELIEVE that the Divine Outlaw founded a Red Army composed chiefly of the rank and file, to turn the world upside down and prepare for the coming in clouds of glory of the International Commonwealth of God; if you believe that everyone should be converted and "join up" to fight the world, the flesh and the devil, and that even little children should not be excluded, but should be enlisted and brought up in the atmosphere of the camp; if you know that an ineffective undisciplined soldier who would reform the world without reforming himself is an unattractive ass and a bad advertisement for the Campaign; if you perceive that were he merely to think of saving his own skin or his own soul, this disciplining might result in filling the temple of his life with seven other devils worse than the first, but that having this hope, the "urge" of the Great Adventure, he must purify himself as He is pure, following his Captain, who endured the gallows, despising the shame; if you believe that when one has played the fool or the traitor one must own up to God and one's fellows in the Army one has "let down"; if you believe one must needs adore God-manifest-in-man, must needs love the Redeemer who has brought us back from the Kingdom of illusion into our own proper Kingdom of the Truth; that one must needs have Communion with Him and with the invigorating leaders who have won their heaven and their right to lead us;


IF YOU BELIEVE in His Real Presence, among all men of goodwill, manifested especially in the Mass, the Social Sacrament of our Redemption -- His Real Presence in the Communism of THE COMMUNION, THE HOLY MEAL, under the form of nourishing bread and merry wine, the symbol of the world's resurrection from its dead self, and the common life of the World to Come, of the common production and distribution of bread and pleasure in the International Commonwealth of God and of His Righteousness; if you believe that, being nourished with the Bread of Life, we may hasten its coming on earth as in heaven; if you believe in His Presence in the Mass, in Processions of the Host, in Benedictions to bless all men and women of good intent who will do His Will, and to curse the pharisees who worship Him and call him "Lord, Lord," and do not the things which He says, who contend for His Presence in the Mass and reject His Presence in the Masses, denying Him in the hungry, the foreigner, the naked, the unwashed, refusing Him comradeship in our jails and workhouses; if you are not content to uphold your Catholic right to address the Saints and to burn candles before their images, but contend for your Catholic duty to follow them into the fight against the "System," remembering that they will help you light such a candle in England as shall never be put out,




IF, while you reject the Gentle-Jesuism of the pietists, you see in the Agnosticism of the revolutionists irreparable disaster; if you feel that just as Liberty is not a mere "social implication," so Religion is not a private fad or an "extra," like music at a young ladies' academy, for to worship any God but the God of Justice spells ruin, and to worship Justice as an Abstraction spells ruin; if you have suffered many things from the flatness of Ethical Services with their worship of Morality, and are nothing better, but rather worse; if you know that God and Man and the Leaders here and beyond are more than Morality, and that Justice, Fellowship, Freedom, are only the language in which we express These Only Realities and Their Intercommunion,



IF YOU CAN FIND no sufficient urge or driving force in the Fabian Desire for Tidiness, Order, Efficiency, or in the artist's desire for abstract beauty, and are aware of the paralysing dreariness of the "materialist misconception of history," [25] if you believe it a disaster that the revolutionaries do not perceive, that all that is eternal in their plans is inspired by God's Eternal Plan for men, and sealed by the blood of the Lamb Slain from the foundation of the world; if you believe that their schemes can only endure if consciously responsive to Him who endures; if you believe it a disaster that their eyes are closed to that other world that mixes with ours, unconscious of the dead who are alive for evermore to guide, encourage and inspire; if you believe that did men know that we are creatures that persist, not insects extinct in a few moments, this assurance would make the revolution not less but more worth while; and that, were the whole world to crumble to dust, the things we have fought for would remain; for they are the ultimate and deathless realities; if you believe that men, in turning aside from the common worship of God, are refusing the nourishment that would invigorate them; that in ignoring prayer, they are rejecting a potent weapon -- that the intense, concentrated, uttered desire of comrades that God's Will should be done and His Commonwealth come on earth as in heaven is incalculable in its practical effects; if you are convinced that though the revolutionaries repudiate God, He does not repudiate them -- that Whom they ignorantly worship, Him we are bound to declare unto them,



IF YOU UNDERSTAND that membership of the Crusade means the enmity of the world, and especially of the world in its intensest essence, the Clergy; if you understand that you will be thought a crank by the revolutionaries and made an outcast by the pietists; if you realize that the rebels will suspect you and your religion, and if in spite of this, you are prepared to keep your religion well to the fore; if you are aware that whoso hateth not his family, his reputation, his possessions, and his own self also, cannot be a Crusader; if you are prepared to lose your job and your friends; if you are willing to give not only your money or your life, but if necessary, your money and your life,


We ask of you everything; we offer you nothing -- nothing but adventure, risks, battle, perhaps ruin; With the love and loyalty of comrades and the Peace of God which passeth understanding. [26]



[1] "Less than a dozen people came to the meeting". A scrap of paper survives, on which names were written that night, names of those present and of those likely to join. From this, it seems that those present for certain were, Conrad Noel, Miriam Noel and Barbara Noel, Harold Mason, Jack Putterill, George Harvey, Lily Patient and Connie Dennis.

[2] "There were never very many". A list of members and novices compiled during the period 1924-25 shows a total of 73 names. Membership never reached 200.

[3] "During its eighteen years existence". From 1929 onwards, the poison of Stalinism was being injected into all left-wing groups; and members of the Crusade were infected, some of them incurably. Factional disputes disrupted the Crusade in the thirties, as they disrupted all other left-wing groups. After prolonged and bitter discussion, John and Mary Groser and the group at Christ Church, Watney Street, Stepney, were driven out of the Crusade in March, 1932.

[4] For Noel's statements in this period, see his Socialism and Church Tradition (A Clarion 'Pass On' Pamphlet', n.d. London) p. 3 and, for his statements on the Church and economic socialism, his Socialism in Church History (Palmer, 1910, London) p. 8.

[5] "A few months before becoming Vicar of Thaxted" ... see Socialism in Church History, completed some months before Noel was appointed to the Thaxted living by Lady Warwick, in April, 1910, but published in that year.

[6] For a fuller account of Noel's work at Thaxted, see his Autobiography, (Dent, London, 1945) pp. 86-119; and Conrad Noel and the Thaxted Movement, by Reg Groves (Merlin Press, London, 1967).

[7] "Discussion on the theology of Social Democratic Catholicism. .." The Thaxted discussion took place in September 1912, and January and June 1913. No account of them was published, though cyclostyled copies of some of the papers there have survived. Discussion in the Church Socialist League opened at the League's Bristol Conference in 1912, Charles Marson's paper being published in the June Church Socialist, and Noel's in the July number. Robert Woodifield gave his own account of Noel's theology in his Catholicism Humanist and Democratic, (Carter, London, 1954) and in his essay on Conrad Noel in For Christ and the People, ed. Maurice Reckitt (S.P.C.K., London, 1968).

[8] "The Irish Rebellion of 1916" ...At the outbreak of war in 1914, Noel placed the Allied flags in Thaxted Church, among them the flags of Ireland and of England. In 1916 he added the Red Flag as symbol of internationalism and social justice. Some time after the Easter Rebellion of 1916, he replaced the traditional flag of Ireland by the Sinn Fein flag, as, he said "the people of Ireland were doing". Noel's views on the flags and on the differences between internationalism and cosmopolitanism are set out in his The Battle of the Flags (London, 1922) written while the struggle over the flags in Thaxted Church was at its height; and in his Jesus the Heretic (Religious Book Club edition, London, 1940) pp. 179-196.

[9] "A Company of the Redemption" ...Church Socialist, October 1916, p. 188. Some Articles of the Faith, was printed as a leaflet some time afterwards, and appeared also in the Catholic Crusader, No. 27, July, 1933.

[10] "A centuries-old native rebel and socialist tradition". This tradition was expressed most profoundly by William Morris, in the work of his hands and imagination. The Manifesto, it should be noted, disregarded vital parts of that tradition, most notably the contribution made to it by the dissident and 'heretical' groups driven from or breaking away from the established church. Noel, Marson, and other Church Socialists undervalued "the multitude of true professors" from Lollard times onwards.

[11] "But livings were not to be had by Crusade priests". John Groser, ordained in 1914, did not get his own church until 1928; Jack Bucknall, ordained in 1912, until 1937; Harold Mason, ordained in 1915, until 1929; Etienne Watts, ordained in 1914, until 1928; George Chambers, ordained in 1906, until 1927. Younger men like Hugh Benson and Hugh Cuthbertson also waited many years before being appointed to a living.

[12] "Only where exceptional circumstances made prolonged stay possible" ...As at St. Michael's, Poplar, where Groser and Bucknall were both curates, from 1922 to 1925, when Bucknall was sacked, Groser staying on until 1928. At St. John's, Delabole, Cornwall, Bucknall, though curate and supposedly controlled by the hostile Vicar of St. Teath's, was saved from dismissal by Walter Frere, Bishop of Truro, and survived amid continual excitement until 1931. A personal account of Bucknall's earlier curacy at St. Austell, is given in A Cornish Childhood, by A. L. Rowse (Reader's Union edition, London, 1944) pp. 160-162.

[13] "A compulsory League of Capitalist States based on fear" ...The victorious Allies were just then promoting the formation of a League of Nations, as part of the 'new world' promised during the war.

[14] Noel writes on the Trinity in Jesus the Heretic, pp. 1-6. l.

[15] "Not as a senseless dogma for Sundays only". This unfortunate formulation was due to an abridgement of an earlier draft, which read, "Not as a meaningless dogma to be held like a pistol at people's heads on Sunday by heresy hunters who deny it all week in their homes, their commerce and their politics. .."

[16] "Authority in Church and State" ...This more fully discussed in Creative Democracy and Natural Leadership, by A Servant of the Catholic Crusade (Thaxted, 1920). ,

[17] For the opinions of the church fathers, and democracy in the early church, see Charles Marson's essay in Vox Clamantium (Innes, London, 1894), and Noel's Socialism in Church History, pp. 103-114.

[18] "With St. Thomas Aquinas," Noel, ibid, pp. 171-183. Reference is to the Seventh Article, Summa Theologica, "Whether it is lawful to steal through stress of need", where Aquinas says, "In cases of need all things are common property, so that there would be no sin in taking another's property, for need has made it .common.. ."

[19] St. Cyprian. "Such conduct is that of the true sons and ,imitators of God; God's gifts are given to all mankind, the day : enlightens all, the sun shines upon all, the rain falls and the wind blows upon all. To all men comes sleep, and splendour of the stars and the moon are common to all. Man is truly imitator of God when he follows the common beneficence of God by imparting to all the brotherhood the good things which he possesses." (Socialism in Church History, p. 104).

[20] St. Ambrose. "We have lost common property by the claims of private property. ..The land was made for all; why do you rich men claim it as your private property? Nature knows nothing of rich men; she bore us all poor. ..Nature then produced common property. Robbery made private property." (Noel, Ibid, p. 106).

[21] St. Gregory. "The land which yields them (the wealthy) income is the common property of all men, and for this reason the fruits of it, which are brought forth, are for the common welfare. It is therefore absurd for people to think they do no harm when they claim God's common gift of food as their private property, or that they are not robbers when they do not pass on what they have received to their neighbours. Absurd! because almost as many folk die daily as they have rations locked up for at home. Really, when we administer any necessities to the poor, we give them their own; we do not bestow our goods upon them, we give them their own. We do not fulfil the works of mercy; we discharge the debt of Justice. .." Noel, Ibid, p. 108.

[22] "The Catholic clergy who led the 1381 rebellion" -- see G. M. Trevelyan's, England in the Age of Wycliffe, (Longman's, London, 1929 edition); The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, by Philip Lindsay and Reg Groves, Hutchinson, 1949. The immediate reference is to a speech of John Ball's, as reported by the chronicler Froissart; Trevelyan, Ibid, p. 197. See also Historic Anglicana, Rolls Series 28, Vol. II, 1869. "My good friends, things cannot go well in England, nor ever will until everything shall be in common; when there shall be neither vassal nor lord, and all distinctions levelled, when the lords shall be no more masters than ourselves".

[23] "The Catholics who led the 1450 rebellion". See Joseph Clayton's The True Story of Jack Cade (Palmer, London, 1909). "We will rather take arms" is from 'The Rebel's Complaynt', a statement by the Norfolk rebels of 1549. See Clayton's, Robert Kett and the Norfolk Rising (London, 1911) and Rebels' Oak, by Reg Groves (London, 1946) p. 101.

[24] "The Sacraments as foretaste" see The Sacraments, by Conrad Noel, (Thaxted, nd.) and Socialism in Church History, pp. 141-160.

[25] "The paralysing dreariness of the 'materialist misconception of history" was, in later editions altered to, "the paralysing dreariness of the 'exclusively economic conception of history' ".

[26] The manifesto was issued from the Rectory, Elland, where [H. O.] Mason, who was honorary secretary of the Crusade, was priest-in-charge. Scotland Yard's Special Branch began investigating the activities of the Crusade, and subsequently informed the Bishop. The Bishop demanded, and secured, Mason's dismissal.

The Crusade was ended at the Chapter held at Burslem in 1936. Noel, Mason, Jim Wilson, Jack Bucknall and others then formed the Order of the Church Militant.

Some Thaxted and Catholic Crusade Publications:
(Note: where it was dated, the date is given. In some other cases, a possible date is given in brackets).

THE THAXTED TRACTS: All except one, were published between 1911 and 1914. Church and Chapel (1912): Work and Wealth: The Keys: The Holy Scriptures: Sins and Their Cure, 1916 and 1917 (abridged version):

CATHOLIC CRUSADE publications: The Catholic Crusade, a manifesto, 1918: Uplifting the Son of Man as the God of Justice in our Midst, 1919: Creative Democracy, 1920: The Christian Religion, Dope or Dynamite, by Robert Woodifield (1921): The Sacraments, by Conrad Noel, (1923): Has the Church Forgotten?, by Stewart Purkis (1922-3): A Guide to Church Services: (n.d.) Devotions of the Catholic Crusade (1922-3): Is Jesus the Revolutionary Leader?, by Jack Bucknall and others (1922-3), revised ed. 1932: Sins and Their Cure, revised edition, 1925 and 1933: The Law and the Prophets, by Conrad Noel, 1929: The Kernal of Christ's Teaching, by Conrad Noel, 1930: Render to Caesar, by Conrad Noel, 1933: The Truth About Jesus (1932-3): The Oxford Movement, by Jim Wilson, 1933: The Catholic Crusade. A Statement of Principles and Constitution and Rules, 1933. A journal The New World, ran from 1928 to 1930; and was followed by The Catholic Crusader, December, 1930 to December, 1934, when it was replaced by The Challenge.

Published in memory of Stewart Purkis, 1885-1969, a member of the Catholic Crusade, and a lifelong revolutionary socialist. Should resources and response permit, other documents will be published.

Published by ARCHIVE, at 7 Heathfield Road, London, S.W.18, and printed by Hitchings & Mason, Plymouth.

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A National Centenary






Reg Groves has brought to the following pages the sight, sound and smell of poverty stirring and then embattled against exploitation. One can almost see Joseph Arch walking in the rain along the lanes from Barford to Wellesbourne on the dark night of the first meeting. The sea of faces of the 'white slaves of England' fitfully lit by the flickering lantern lights speak to us across the century.

The Present is rooted in the Past, and the future in both'. The roots of our Union go back to those beginnings. The first 'National' after tremendous achievements flickered out. Arch counseled George Edwards: <<. . . never trust our class again" and "in my old age they have forsaken me."

The voices across the century counsel us well. The lesson has been learned. Our Union is proof against everything but self-doubt.

General Secretary, National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers.

April, 1972

Early in the year 1872, a few hundred farm labourers, shepherds, carters, cowmen and others, in a scattering of Warwickshire villages, organised themselves in a local trade union.

Why so small and remote an event should have aroused interest outside the area itself is a mystery. But it did, perhaps because unions at that time were mostly the prerogative of better-paid and more regularly employed skilled craftsmen and factory operatives; whereas low-paid farm workers, who had neither voice nor vote in their country's affairs, were widely scattered, liable to eviction from their homes in the event of dispute and dismissal, lived in a countryside owned and ruled by wealthy landowners, the more substantial farmers, and their lackeys of church and state, and so seemed the most hopelessly placed of all to better themselves.

Nor were the Warwickshire men the first farmworkers to organise. A few years earlier, local unions had come and gone in Buckinghamshire, Kent and Norfolk; and more recently and successfully in Herefordshire ('Emigration, Migration, but not strikes'), in Lincolnshire and elsewhere - yet none of these aroused such a pother as did the one in Warwickshire.

Nor were conditions worse in Warwickshire than everywhere else. They were bad enough, however; and the appearance of local unions in so many places at this time shows that things were far from well for the farm labourers and their families. Changes in rural England over a century and more had broken up the age-old common life and culture of the people, and infinitely worsened their circumstances and condition. Some fragments of the old life survived, some outward ceremonials and customs persisted - the mummers made their immemorial rounds at Christmas and Easter, the Morris men trod their ancient patterns on greensward and dusty roads on golden summer days, 'harvest home' still took on semblance of feast and pagan rite, and traditional processions and club 'walks' bore modest witness to merrier times now gone forever. A bold peasantry had been transformed into the starving, dispossessed labourers of the eighteen-twenties and thirties; and in the winter of 1830-31, there was rebellion in much of rural England. Peaceful in temper, traditional in form, and regarded sympathetically by many tradesmen and farmers, it was savagely repressed.

Bitter memories of that repression, and the pitiful destitution of the rural poor in the two decades that followed, opened the gulf between the poor and their rulers, a gulf widened by the prosperity enjoyed by farmers and landowners in the fifties and sixties. Dives dined daily and fared sumptuously. A few crumbs were spared for Lazarus, at the back door. Scribes and pedagogues have made more of those crumbs than poor Lazarus was able to do; and argue that the lot of the farm labourer improved during this 'Golden Age of English Farming'. Compared with the appalling misery of the thirties and forties, it did - in a period of thirty-three years, statistics show the average wage rising by two shillings a week - to ten or eleven shillings a week in some parts, eight or nine in others, and fourteen shillings or more near big industrial areas or where the old yearly hiring system prevailed. That this infinitesimal statistical improvement left large numbers of labourers impoverished and hopelessly insecure is borne out by their own moving testimonies, and by the reports of those who knew them at first hand.

The degradation in status and condition of the farm worker is unwittingly revealed in the contemporary writings and reports on the rural scene by the reputedly well-informed Richard Jefferies, supposedly sympathetic to working countrymen. What Jefferies shows unintentionally is how the depressed and oppressed labourer looked to his 'social betters' and to those who, like him, wrote to please the masters. The farmers are shown as concerned for the and they farm and for the labourers they employ; as men hard-pressed and heroic in adversity, and as justified in paying low wages, and leaving many labourers unemployed or underemployed in winter months.

Hodge, the labourer, on the other hand is shown as brutalised, frequenting the 'low' public house in the village, slow, stupid, lazy, and incapable of gratitude, even though, according to Jefferies, "There is no class of person in England who receives so many attentions from their superiors as the agricultural labourer." Few passages light up in so startling a fashion the degradation of the rural poor than Jefferies' approving report of Hodge's praise of 'the young squire'. "He beant such a bad sort of veller, you. A' beant above speaking to we."

"These people," Jefferies wrote, "have no myths, no heroes. They look back on no heroic age, no Achilles, no Agamemnon, and no Homer. The past is vacant. They have not even a 'Wacht am Rhein' or 'Marseillaise' to chant in chorus with quickened step and flashing eye. No, not even a ballad . . ." (Not even a ballad! Thirty years after those words were written, when the destruction of rural life had gone on apace, Charles Marson and Cecil Sharp were to discover with wonder the rich balladry of the rural poor.)

Thomas Hardy replied to this, denouncing those who spoke of 'the typical Hodge', a "degraded being of uncouth manner and aspect, stolid understanding and snail-like movements" who "hardly dares to think at all" and suggested that if they looked more closely, the 'typical Hodge' would then "disintegrate into a number of dissimilar fellow-creatures, some happy, many serene, a few depressed; some clever, even to genius, some stupid, some wanton, some austere, some mutely Miltonic, some Cromwellian . . . each of whom walks his own way to dusty death."

It was a good answer to Jefferies and the rest of them - but it was Hodge himself who was to make the most effective reply, to Jefferies, to radicals like Lloyd Jones who said of the labourer, "In intellect he is a child, in position a helot, in condition a squalid outcast; he knows nothing of the past; his knowledge of the future is limited to the field he works in ... The squire is his king, the parson his deity, the taproom his highest conception of earthly bliss"; and to that reference by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, to "The idiocy of rural life." Hodge himself made the most crushing of all retorts - he acted and formed his own union.

There were murmurings in the Warwickshire villages during January and February 1872. In South Warwickshire, 'Hungry Harbury' stirred and so did Weston-under-Wetherby; but it was at Wellesbourne that, after a meeting or two, a decision was taken which was to have far-reaching consequences. A larger meeting was called, and it was felt that someone known and respected was needed, to address the meetiing and lead the movement. It was partly the dramatic sequence of events that followed, and partly the personality of the man who was invited to the Wellesbourne meeting, that was to jolt the complacency of reactionary and radical alike, and put Hodge himself in the centre of the national stage.

Three men were deputed to call on Joseph Arch at his Barford home. Arch was forty-five years old, lived in a freehold cottage bought by his grandfather for £30, a circumstance which was of some importance in what followed. In childhood. Arch had experienced the anguished, humiliating poverty so common to the rural poor at the time; at six he was crow-scaring in the fields; an expert with the scythe in his youth he became skilled in most branches of farm work. A master woodsman, he established himself as a champion hedger and ditcher, and, working independently by contract for farmers in many areas, he maintained the independence for which his grandfather had provided, and for which his father had more than once been victimised. A scourge of tyranny and patronage

in his village, Arch was known also in the surrounding district as a lay preacher among the Primitive Methodists. Forthright and eloquent. Arch was the man to lead the farm labourers - but would he?

It was a wet day when the three men called, and Arch was at home making a box for his soldier son. He set aside the half-finished box, listened to what the men had to say, satisfied himself that they were in earnest, and consented to speak at Wellesbourne.

It rained on the night of the meeting - and Arch later confessed to having many doubts and fears as he walked with steady tread along the dark road, between the dripping hedgerows. His doubts were swept away at sight of the meeting; despite the rain and the darkness (someone had seen to it that the village gas lamps were turned off) there were far too many people there for a meeting in the Stag Inn. So it was held on the green, under the chestnut tree. Standing on a pig-killing stool, Arch saw the upturned faces lit by the shivering lantern light - "These white slaves of England stood there with the darkness all about them, like the Children of Israel waiting for someone to lead them out of the land of Egypt" - and felt a prophet new-inspired. Arch knew and accepted his destiny at that moment - all that had gone before in his life was preparation for this. "I felt as if there was a living fire in me . . . There was a strength and power in me which had been pent up and had been growing and now it flowed forth."

There were already, or were to be other unions, other leaders, known and unknown, brave, dedicated men almost all of them. But it was at Wellesbourne by some strange alchemy that the farm labourers found voice and heart, a spokesman who was of them, and who spoke for them all, and who, as local and national newspapers began to report events in Warwickshire, took the national stage eloquently and fearlessly.

There was soon much to report. Other meetings followed, hundreds joined the union. Small strikes broke out at Ratley and Bishop's Tachbrook. The Wellesbourne men wrote to farmers in their area - mostly tenants of Sir Charles Mordaunt or of Spencer Lucy - "Sir, we jointly and severally request your attention to the following requirements - namely, 2s. 8d. per day for our labour; hours from six to five; and to close at three on Saturdays; and 4d. an hour overtime. Hoping you will give this your fair and honest consideration." No one did. Not a farmer replied to the letter.

On March 11th, some 200 men at Wellesbourne, Moreton, Morrell, Hampton Lucy, Charlecote and Loxley, went on strike, "with not a poundsworth of silver amongst the lot of them". Some farmers paid the 16s. asked for, and their men went back to work; others offered 14s., some 15s., but these offers were rejected. Sir Charles Mordaunt called on all farmers to sack all union men, and gave notice to quit to all his tenants who had joined the union. Men were locked out at Tyso, Claverdon and Wasperton; at Radford and at Wellesbourne, labourers, wives, children and possessions were bundled out of their homes on to the road. But the men held firm, workmen in Leamington and other towns began giving their pennies to help the strikers; and Arch was everywhere speaking, "Sometimes under a tree, sometimes in a field; now it would be in an orchard. and next night by the roadside. We met by sunlight and moonlight and starlight and lantern light - the sun in the sky or the farthing dip - it was all one to a union man at the time."

Union membership sprouted. Branches, starting as independent village unions, were increasing. On Good Friday, March 29th, 1872, union members in Sunday best, banners aloft, wives and children along, from Wellesbourne, the Laceys, Hungry Harbury and the rest, including some no doubt from Piping Pebworth, dancing Marston, Haunted Hillborough, Hungry Grafton, Dodging Exhill, Papist Wickford, Beggarly Broom and Drunken Bideford marched through the streets of Leamington to the Portland Street Public Hall, singing,

We won't be idle, we won't stand still,

We're willing to work, to plough and till:

But if we don't get a rise we'll strike we will,

For all have joined the union.

and there, that afternoon, the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers Union was founded.

By now it had a whole series of small strikes and lockouts on its hands - and news of evictions, victimisations, lockouts of union members, brought warm support from workpeople in the towns, many of whom were less than a generation away from the countryside, and had relatives living there, and who knew well enough the drab poverty and cruel oppression of rural life. Such support sustained and heartened the farm workers - and their determined stand roused farm workers in other parts of England.

The Warwickshire skirmishes were crucial for the union's survival, and lasted three months. The union, with little or no money, resorted to migration and emigration - 150 were found work in the towns, 200, with families, were helped to emigrate overseas, reducing the labour available to farmers and easing the burden on union funds. One by one, the farmers capitulated, and even Sir Charles Mordaunt had to come down off his high horse, recognise the union and reinstate his dismissed men. By then, the union had 60 branches in the County, and local and district unions were being formed in other parts of England. Calls for help, appeals for a visit from Joseph Arch, came from all over the country. It was time, the Warwickshire men decided, to form a national trade union for farm workers; and at the end of April, invitations were issued to local and district unions to a conference at Leamington on May 29th, 1872.

On Wednesday, May 29th. 1872, delegates from a score of English counties met at the Circus, a wooden building near Leamington's Pump Room. As well as the union men, a number of public men, mostly Liberals, sat on the platform, to show their sympathy with the labourers' cause. Liberal Party influence over the union men was to grow, but for the moment the labourers and their leader Arch were in control of affairs and held the centre of the stage.

After hearing an encouraging report of the Warwickshire union's progress, the delegates and visitors heard schoolmaster Thomas Strange, who like so many of the local leaders was a Primitive Methodist, move, in the name of the 'Herefordshire hinds', "That a National Union of Agricultural Labourers be formed, having district unions throughout the kingdom, and its centre of management in Leamington." The delegates cheered, and talked about it all in accents that displayed the rich diversities of the English tongue. Joseph Arch was elected President at a salary of £2 a week, Henry Taylor, a Leamington carpenter active in his own trade society, was appointed paid secretary, and Leamington newspaper editor Matthew Vincent, whose paper had supported the labourers' cause from the start, became voluntary treasurer. Twelve farmworkers were elected to the executive, seven of them members of the Warwickshire union's district committee.

A consultative committee of "gentlemen favourable to the principles of the union" was also set up, members of which could attend executive meetings and speak, but not vote. Union headquarters were at Balm Cottage, Forfield Place, Leamington. The objects of the union were "To improve the general conditions of Agricultural Labourers in the United Kingdom, to encourage the formation of Branch and District unions, and to promote co-operation and communication between unions already in existence." Its immediate aims were to secure a 9^ hour day exclusive of mealtimes and a minimum weekly wage of 16s.

Not all the district unions were at the conference - the Kent and Sussex and the Lincolnshire Labour League declined to send delegates, and with the Eastern Counties Union and several others, remained separate, all of them objecting to a centralised control - "the tyranny of Leamington" - and to that committee of gentlemen. For, while the gentlemen could attend and speak at the National's execu tive committee, only farm labourers could be elected to it - a rule that excluded almost all the district union leaders, including Thomas Strange.

Amid bubbling enthusiasm, and but four months from those first Wellesbourne meetings, the National Agricultural Labourers' Union was founded and set on its way by the despised, seemingly-helpless farm workers. Preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, remembering maybe in his fame and affluence an Essex childhood of bleak poverty, cried out when told of the union, "The best news I have heard next to the Gospel!"; and from London Karl Marx wrote to a friend abroad, "The great event here is the awakening of the agricultural labourers." As the delegates sung with moving fervour a union hymn, and dispersed, Joseph Arch told himself: "The Lord God of Hosts is with us this day!"



tive committee, only farm labourers could be elected to it - a rule that excluded almost all the district union leaders, including Thomas Strange.

Amid bubbling enthusiasm, and but four months from those first Wellesbourne meetings, the National Agricultural Labourers' Union was founded and set on its way by the despised, seemingly-helpless farm workers. Preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, remembering maybe in his fame and affluence an Essex childhood of bleak poverty, cried out when told of the union, "The best news I have heard next to the Gospel!"; and from London Karl Marx wrote to a friend abroad, "The great event here is the awakening of the agricultural labourers." As the delegates sung with moving fervour a union hymn, and dispersed, Joseph Arch told himself: "The Lord God of Hosts is with us this day!"

And now Joseph Arch was abroad in the land! The union was coming, and farmers swore or were troubled and hastened to raise wages when noise of his coming was heard in their areas, and often had to put them up again after Arch had been there.

There was talk of a 'new Spartacus', memories were revived of 'Captain Swing' and the troubles of the thirties. Squires, and many parsons, particularly those who dined frequently at the table of Dives, denounced Arch and the other leaders as paid agitators, and accused them of breaking the traditional, sympathetic rural relationships between the gentry, the farmers and the labourer; and then showed how much they believed in that supposedly contented labourer by forbidding him to join a union, on pain of instant dismissal and eviction from his home.

Many squires and parsons and farmers tried to break the union wherever it appeared; there were dismissals, cottage evictions, and prosecutions of men and women before magistrates who as squires, or parsons or farmers, wanted the union crushed. Yet the line held across the country. The National grew in numbers and reputation.

By the following year wages had risen in most areas by twenty to twenty-five per cent. The National, at its conference in May 1873, reported 982 branches. 23 districts and 71,835 members. Those area unions who stayed outside the National, federated themselves loosely together, aided by the powerful London trade unions. By the conference of May 1874, the National had 37 districts committees, 1,480 branches, and 86,214 members. It was estimated that the National and the independent unions together represented some 150,000 farm workers.

At the outset, Arch had set his face against emigration as a union policy. As struggles grew in bitterness and duration in the countryside, Arch bowed to the economics of Liberal Capitalism and reluctantly supported the emigration of farm workers overseas, to New Zealand, Australia, Canada and later to the United States, a serious drain on union strength. In two years, over 50,000 labourers were helped to emigrate; in ten years, 200,000 men, women and children were aided by the union to leave their native land. These were bound to be the younger, more active, more self-reliant, and the loss to the union, to the countryside, and to the nation was a substantial one.

But events were driving now to crisis - during 1874 the hard-fought, brisk local encounters of the first two years were transformed into a fair-sized war which stretched its tentative way across a dozen English counties as many farmers banded together in their areas to destroy the union.

The first shots were fired by some Newmarket farmers, all pledged not to employ union men. On March 10th, 1874, they resolved that "all union men be locked out, after giving one week's notice". 1,600 men refused to quit the union and were locked out. Ninety Essex and Suffolk farmers, who had pledged themselves to pay no more than 2s. for a 12-hour day, locked out all union men.

By April, 6,000 men were locked out, two-thirds of them members of the National, the rest of them of the Lincolnshire Labour League. Some farmers in Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Hampshire, and in Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Dorset took up the war against the union - and the number locked out for refusing to surrender union membership rose to 10,000.

Arch and the other leaders toured the land, speaking, encouraging, exhorting the embattled labourers. The members not locked out levied themselves, the skilled workmen's unions sent money, and a hundred or so farm labourers set out on a fund-raising pilgrimage from Newmarket for the towns and cities of the Midlands and North; and everywhere the working people turned out to cheer them, and to fill the collecting boxes with coins. But the drain on union funds was heavy - between March and August, the National alone paid out £24,432 to its districts, and to this must be added the sums raised and spent by the districts themselves, and by the other farmworkers' unions.

Thousands were found work in the towns and in unaffected country areas; thousands emigrated with union help. The drain on funds, however, was too great. The Lincolnshire Labour League secured a compromise settlement which allowed their members to return to work and remain in the union. Some members of the National returned to work but retained union cards. The National held on until, at the end of July, the Executive Committee declared the dispute at an end.

A defeat, but the National and most of the Federals survived, and the farm worker had shown that he could maintain his union in adversity. When the National's condition was surveyed at the May, 1875 annual council meeting, there were still some 50,000 members.

Recovery was slowed, however, by quarrels between leaders of the various unions, and by some bitter recriminations among some of the National's leaders, recriminations which led to breakaways in some areas. Beginning in 1875 came a series of chilly springs and rainy summers, of 'poor cereal crops, mildew in wheat, mould in hops, blight on other crops, disease in cattle, rot in sheep, throwing heavy lands into foul condition, deteriorating the finer grasses of pastures'. In 1879, it rained without stop; the harvest blackened in the fields, and three million sheep died or were killed because of rot. Nor was this all - for now cheap food began coming into the country from abroad in mounting quantities, to the detriment of England's agriculture. For the unions it was now a matter of holding on to gains already achieved, and sustaining organisation until circumstances improved.

As the number of farms fell, as land went out of cultivation, or became pasture, and labourers left for the towns or countries overseas, union membership dwindled. By 1887, it was below 10,000; and in the years of falling away, Arch and the union men, having already bowed to the economics of Liberal Capitalism, could but hold surviving members together, and try to check the fall in wages. They turned to political action through the Liberal Party, the exponents, creators, beneficiaries and creatures of the forces that made inevitable a further erosion of English agriculture - and ultimately of British industry. The organised farmworkers demanded the franchise, secured it in 1884, and through this, and the creation of parish, rural district and county councils, were slowly to take over a more prominent role in the political and administrative life of the countryside.

Arch was himself elected to Parliament for N.W. Norfolk in 1885; but, encouraging as was this defiant vote by the newly- enfranchised farmworkers, the National's membership went on falling, and by 1889 was down to less than 5,000. But this was a year of spirited trade union activity among the unorganised workers in the towns, and in the country. Local farmworkers' unions' appeared in several counties, and the National's membership started growing again, chiefly in Norfolk, though promisingly, too, in Essex.

In January, 1890, Arch toured Norfolk, and spoke everywhere to crowded, enthusiastic meetings. The National's membership rose to 15,000 (12,000 of them in Norfolk) and in 1892 Arch, aged 65 and racked by rheumatism and sciatica, undertook another arduous tour in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and twice had to stop because of illness. He recovered, however, to fight N.W. Norfolk again in the summer and won it with a thumping majority. Everywhere there were crowds and cheers and waves and smiles from the women and children, and handshakes from the veterans of the National.



The drought and bad harvest of 1893 brought widespread unemployment and wage reductions in the Eastern Counties. Members of the National and of a county union, the Norfolk and Norwich Amalgamated, stood out against the reductions, but after a brave stand, were defeated. The National and the other unions began to wither away.

In December, 1895, at the invitation of George Edwards, who had joined the National as a young man, who was still a staunch union man, and was active in Liberal Party politics in the area, Arch came to speak at Cromer. Edwards met him at the station. They talked of the union, and Arch with big tears running down his face, said:

"My boy, you are younger than I, and therefore you will be able to return to work, but take my advice. When you do, never trust our class again. I am getting old, I have given all the best years of my life in their interest, and now in my old age they have forsaken me."

The National, with little more than a thousand members remaining, was nearing its end, and was dissolved the following year.

It had lived for twenty-four eventful, exciting years, proving beyond question that the farm workers could combine, and could and would resist oppression. Wages had been raised, the franchise won, and the farm workers given a chance to wrest from squire and farmer a right to have a voice and vote in local and national affairs.

Arch's despair at the end must have been shared by many villagers, and their anguish made more bitter and more poignant because of the high hopes raised by the National in its early days. The cause of the National, however, was not dead. That last encouraging but short-lived revival in membership, those last exhausting tours and public meetings by Joseph Arch, made manifest the ever-renewing impulses to freedom and social justice among the country folk; and kindled and gave substance to the legend of the National, its birth, its early triumphs, its brave battles for survival. The older men remembered it all, and retold the tales; the young men and women, and the boys and girls who heard Joseph Arch in those last years of the old union, were the ones who took up the union cause anew.

For it was in these same areas a decade later that George Edwards and a handful of other Norfolk men formed the tiny union that became, four years afterwards, in 1910, the National Agricultural Labourers' and Rural Workers' Union, and which is known today, as the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, the living voice and representative of Britain’s farm workers.

A hundred Maytimes have passed since the National was founded. It is good to pause and remember the men and women of 1872 to see them, in the mind's eye, as they were, against the hills and fields of home - ploughboys and harvesters, rook boys and shepherds, cowmen and carters, and the craftsmen of farm and village who so often aided and sometimes led the village unions.

Not yet are the things they strove for won. But, maybe if we listen intently enough, we may hear, faint and far away, an echo of their voices as they talk of their deepest longings and aspirations, of the things held in their hearts, of a secret dream of the English people that one day they will again possess their own land.

The National - its rise, fall, and resurrection

1872: National Union of Agricultural Labourers founded.

1876: Enclosure of Commons Act, making increased provision for recreation grounds and allotments in subsequent enclosures.

1882:Extension of Allotments Act.

1884: Representation of the People Act, extended adult male household franchise.

1885: General Election, Joseph Arch elected to Parliament for N.W. Norfolk.

1886, General election, Joseph Arch defeated.

1887: Allotments and Small Holdings Act.

1888:Local Government Act, establishing County Councils.

1889-1892: trade union revival in the countryside.

1892: Arch returned again for N.W. Norfolk.

1892: Small Holdings Act.

1894: Local Government Act, setting up rural District and Parish Councils.

1895: General Election, Arch again returned for N.W. Norfolk.

1896: National Union of Agricultural Labourers dissolved.

1900: General Election, Joseph Arch retires to his Bar-ford home.

1919: death of Joseph Arch.

1906: Eastern Counties Agricultural Labourers' and Small Holders' Union formed. North Walsham, Norfolk.

1906. 1908: Small Holdings Act.

1912:Eastern Counties union becomes National Agricultural Labourers' and Rural Workers' Union: and in 1920 became the National Union of Agricultural Workers.

BOOKS about Joseph Arch and the National:

Joseph Arch: the story of his life, told by himself. Joseph Arch, by Pamela Horn (Roundwood, 1971).

George Edwards, From Crow Scaring to Westminster, 1922. reprinted NUAW, 1957.

Sharpen the Sickle, by Reg Groves, the official history of the NUAW. 1949.

The Revolt of the Field in Lincolnshire, by Rex Russell, 1956.

The Revolt of the Field in East Anglia, by Arthur Peacock, pamphlet in 'Our History' series.

by Reg Groves

Author of Sharpen the Sickle, the official history of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers; as well as of Conrad Noel and the Thaxted Movement; The Mystery of Victor Grayson:

But We Shall Rise again;

The Peasants Revolt of 1381;

Rebel's Oak.





"War to the palaces, peace to the cottages - that is a battle cry of terror which may come to resound through our own country. Let the wealthy beware." – (The Times, June, 1844.)

ON all sides the seriousness of Britain's industrial position is recognised.  The easy optimism of the post-war years has given way to feverish endeavours to remedy a state of affairs more serious than anything previously experienced by British capitalism.   The heavy exporting industries (on which British capitalism was built), the Liberal Industrial Report admits "may be permanently threatened."  Mr. Ben Turner, fresh from the Industrial Peace Conferences which are to "revive British industry" gloomily remarks that : -

Trade is really in a rocky condition and one sometimes wonders whether there will be that trade revival so often spoken about in recent months - Daily Herald, September 18, 1928.

The Trade Union Bill and the Mond-Turner Conferences are both unmistakable signs that the future is to be a future of mass unemployment, of continual wage-cuts - a future of increasing misery and degradation for the working class. The past seven years have seen the wage-bill of the workers reduced by some £5,000 million, hours worked in industry increased some 211 millions a year, speeding up in the principal industries and attacks on the political rights of the working-class. The decline in production continues, and unemployment, in spite of "harvesting" schemes and Baldwin's appeals, is close on two millions.  The alternative faces the working class - Capitalism with increasing misery and world war or the working-class conquest of power, a workers' dictatorship which alone offers the real way to reconstruction and to a permanent raising of the miserable standards of the British proletariat.

The Reformist leadership is openly proclaiming its allegiance to capitalism and through a confused mass of "living wage" proposals, of programmes "mainly devoted to the expansion of industry and trade," of fantastic Utopias built amid motor car and bicycle factories, one theory is gradually becoming comparatively coherent and is gaining support from "Rights," "Centrists" and "Lefts" From Phillips Price to Citrine, the Reformists are hailing the advent of the "Second Industrial Revolution." The theoreticians of the Second International are outdoing John the Baptist in their proclamation of the coming "new era" of a "Rationalised," " Scientific," "Prosperity for all" Capitalism. Gone is the haunting fear (too often confirmed by facts!) that perhaps the Communists were right. Gone is the danger of civil war. Capitalism is saved and with the salvation of capitalism lies the salvation of a weakening Reformism. Mr. Snowden is a prominent advocate of this theory. As far back as 1926 (on the eve of the attack on the miners) Mr. Snowden was stating that

He did not agree with the statement of some of his Socialist friends that the capitalist system was obviously breaking down.  He believed that we were today in a position very much like the industrial revolution that took place in this country about 120 years ago. - Daily Herald, April 17, 1926.

In defending Mondism, Mr. Walter Citrine at Swansea declared : -

The position of the workers in the post-war period, the effect of that period, the long-continued depression, particularly in the basic industries, have created something which in the view of eminent economists may be compared with the industrial revolution of the last part of the eighteenth century. We may be even now in the throes of a revolution such as that. - T.U.C. Report p. 409. [Our emphasis.]

The object of this propaganda is clear.  By this means mass unemployment, wage cuts, and anti-trade unionism are justified and explained. All the 2½ per cent. "voluntary sacrifices," the speeding up and mass dismissals, the starvation in the industrial areas, are only a "necessary" and natural part of the transition to the "new era" of national prosperity, in the same way as the misery and degradation of the early nineteenth century was followed by the Victorian era of industrial peace and prosperity.

There is in this picture of suffering as the prelude to the "new era" an element of truth (conveniently ignored by the reformists) in so far as the breakdown of capitalism and the consequent misery heralds the rise of a new class to power. In the days of the first industrial revolution it was the industrial bourgeoisie that was rising to power; today it is the industrial proletariat.

Upon the basis of their belief that today we "are in the throes" of a second industrial revolution the Reformists calculate that the new era of rationalism and international agreements (in the place of wars!) will smother the revolutionary movement of today as the Victorian era smothered the revolutionary movement which sprang from the starving workers of early capitalism, An examination of this belief Is necessary before an estimation of its value can be given and its real nature revealed. Three points call for special attention.

1. The nature of the revolutionary movement of the early nineteenth century; its rise and decline.

2. The possibility of a revival of British capitalism through Rationalisation.

3. A comparison between the revolutionary movement of the first industrial revolution and the movement of today.

The Industrial Revolution and the Workers

The revolt of the workers in the early nineteenth century developed and gained strength as capitalism developed and strengthened. The genesis of the capitalist system was also the genesis of the modern working-class movement and the effect of the vast changes that took place in the last quarter of the eighteenth century was seen most clearly in the rising working-class movement. The workers' revolt developed from the Luddite movement, the first blind instinctive outburst against capitalism typified for the workers by the machine, through early trade unionism, through political societies, "Jacobin" clubs and secret conspiracies; taking its form from the circumstances in which it arose, first struggling against the ruthless introduction of machinery, then against anti-trade union legislation; against child labour in factory and mine; against the barbarity of the new Poor Law; struggling for Trade Union rights, for shorter hours and for an untaxed Press. So through the first thirty years of the nineteenth century, often in alliance with the middle class and nearly always led by middle-class leaders, the proletariat of England struggled sectionally against the exploitation and misery of industrial capitalism. The struggle advanced to a higher plane when the industrialists and the workers unitedly swept into effect the Reform Bill of 1832.

The achievement of a controlling part in the guidance of national affairs satisfied the middle classes; with the vote extended to them they elected their own government and ruthlessly disowning their former allies the workers, and even many radical bodies, they proceeded to break up the remaining obstacles to successful capitalist development.

The first effects of the Reformed Parliament fell heavily on the working class. A new Poor Law Act was introduced, framed ostensibly to remedy the abuses of the old system, but in reality a terrible attack on the masses of workers who, unable to gain a livelihood under the new system, were dependent for their existence on a starvation rate of relief or on degradations of the workhouse. The real reason for the new Bill was that the old laws of settlement (i.e. paupers confined to home district, etc.) made impossible the complete mobility of labour needed by the growing industrial system, and that the low wages of the hand-loom weavers were supplemented by relief enabling them to compete with the new factories.   Its chief clause was the one by which, according to Dr. Kay, the workhouses were "made as like prisons as possible" (Hansard, vol. xli., p. 1014).  Engels has graphically described the horrors of the Poor Law system and an examination of the various Commissions investigating during that part of the century completes the picture of misery and degradation. "They have built the wretched union gaols where King Starvation reigns supreme," declared M. Harcourt, a contemporary poet in 1837, whose poetry, like most of the literature of the day, is permeated with indignation.

This Act and the subsequent industrial depression that spread like a plague from town to town added to the fury of the working class. From the sea of misery, handloom weavers, proletarians and landworkers began to seek ways of ending their misery. Out of their discontent arose two great movements, the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union and the Chartist Movement.

The "Grand National" and Chartism

The G.N.C.T.U., formed by Owen in 1834 from the wreckage of previous attempts on the same lines, rapidly gained strength and in less than a month had a membership of over half-a-million - unprecedented in the whole history of Trade Unionism. Its life was short. Whilst Owen dreamed of the millennium, the left-wing of the Executive, Smith and Morrison, declared the Union to represent the new form of government and mobilised the workers for action. The reply of the employers was crushing. Lockouts were resorted to in order to starve the workers into abandoning the Union. The Government announced a new Bill to make such a Union illegal and in the meantime struck relentlessly at the G.N.C.T.U. by conviction and barbarous sentences. Defeat followed defeat, funds began to show serious signs of depletion, and for a few months the Union's fate hung in the balance. A rally might have saved it, but Owen crushed the hopes that many entertained by dismissing the two men, Smith and Morrison, who showed the ability to lead the movement to victory. Temporarily the attempt to unite the workers on the industrial field had been defeated. The workers fell back into their old state - fighting on different fronts with different objects.   A party was needed to unite the whole working class for the struggle, and its formation was not long delayed. All over England working-men's associations and clubs sprang up with great rapidity, with their membership open only "to members of the industrious classes." (Radicals, middle-class reformers and others were admitted in some cases to honorary membership.)   The issuing of the Charter provided the means to unity. On the slogan of "The Charter and nothing but the Charter," the hosts of workers' political organisations became united. The agitation for the "Charter," universal suffrage and electoral reforms speedily embodied within itself the struggle for an untaxed Press (which in practice then meant a workers' Press) for Trade Unions rights, for better conditions, for a repeal of the new Poor Law and gathering up these issues as an independent revolutionary movement the proletariat advanced against capitalism itself. Thus, the rising proletarian movement engendered by the first industrial revolution culminated in Chartism, the first class party of the workers which for a decade thrust the issue of class power to the front and shook the rising capitalist system to its foundations.

Between 1838 and 1842, the great years of Chartism, the Chartists passed from stage to stage of the workers' struggle. Parliamentary Petition was followed by an attempted general strike, by propaganda to the troops, by mass demonstrations, by international organisations and by armed revolts. The temper of the workers was clearly in favour of revolution. In Birmingham, for instance, in July, 1839, the workers carried on street fighting for nearly a week with both police and military, only being disarmed in the end by the "centrists" of Chartism. In Kent, the land workers revolted and, arming, attacked Canterbury in 1838. The Newport rising, two years later, and the fights all over England against both police and military show clearly that the workers were ready for civil war, and had the mass been moulded together for a national struggle capitalism would have reaped as the fruits of the first industrial revolution a workers' revolution. Yet Chartism failed and its disappearance in 1853 saw the disappearance of the revolutionary movement for nearly half-a-century. What was the reason for this collapse?

The Cause of Chartist Decline

The main reason is to be found in the actual conditions that created Chartism.   The rising capitalist system with the accession of the industrialists to power gradually eased the conditions of the workers and diminished the antagonism between themselves and the industrial workers who were the only section of the movement that could lead it to a successful conclusion. The three greatest periods of the agitation, 1838, 1842 and 1848 reveal only too clearly the effects of the expansion of capitalism. After the mass movement of 1838 which culminated in 1840 in the Newport rising and the imprisonment of over 500 prominent Chartists, the movement under the effects of the increasingly severe industrial depression revived quickly, and 1842 saw the second national petition with over three million signatures and the mass strike of August for the Charter. This mass strike revealed to the owning class, which up to then had been divided, the real strength of Chartism. The Times of August 12, 1842, said that never before had Chartism shown its organisation so powerfully. The owning class united, defeated the strike and with the defeat of the strike the decline of Chartism commenced. The third revival in 1848, a reflection of the crisis of 1847, was short and revealed openly the weakness and internal disintegration of the movement. From that collapse it never recovered.

The extent of capitalist development can be gauged from the following facts. The value of exports for the years 1836-40 averaged £50,012,994; in 1842 it fell to £47,634,623, In 1843 it was £52,279,709; in 1843 it rose to £60,111,082, and after the crisis of 1847 rose steadily until in 1855 it reached £98,933,781. Between 1842 and 1845, 542 new factories were built. The retail price of foodstuffs began to fall, wages began to rise. The following wage figures from Bowley's Wages in the Nineteenth Century, illustrates this. The average wages figures for the London artisans in 1833 was 28s. 0d.; in 1867 it was 36s. 0d. For town labourers in 1833 it was 14s. 0d.; in 1867 it was 20s. Agricultural labourers wages during this period rose from 10s. 6d. to 14s. 0d. Between 1842-48 average wage increases of nine grades of labour in the ironworks of South Wales were 49 per cent. The building trades between 1839-1849 increased their wages by 6 per cent, and the glassworkers by 15 per cent. Pauperism decreased; thus in 1846-47 percentage in receipt of Poor Law relief was 10.1; in l852 it was 4.8. Conditions in the factories were investigated by several Acts passed between 1842 and 1848. The new Poor Law Act was partly remedied in 1846-47. The cotton workers' wages began to rise slowly after 1842.   The woollen hand-loom weavers, who were a tremendous tower of strength to Chartism, were slowly exterminated by sheer starvation and their numbers declined enormously between 1838 and 1850. Thus a revival of Chartism was undermined by the steady improvement of conditions that set in after 1842.

"Revival" or Revolution

A serious examination of the actual nature of the "depression" of today will show that the decline thus manifested so strikingly since the war is a decline of capitalism itself and not a production ".crisis" similar to those of the Chartist period. The belief that a similar era of prosperity can be embarked on by modern capitalism as the period that capitalism enjoyed after the Chartist epoch is not borne out by the facts. Then Britain enjoyed a monopolist position, had unlimited prospects of expansion and was faced with little or no competition abroad. Today newer and fresher competitors are in the field, the markets of the world are diminishing and British capitalism, dependent as it is on its exporting industries, is facing a situation from which there is no escapes So far, the attempt to meet the changed situation has consisted entirely of wage-cuts, longer hours and mass dismissals. New Reformism seeking an alternative to the class struggle and its culmination in the overthrow of capitalism is urging rationalisation, as in Germany and America, to save capitalism and at the same time themselves. To discuss the possibility of rationalisation is to tread on familiar ground and although the impossibility of rationalisation a la Germany in this country is quite clear yet, as some still find reasons for this possibility, it is necessary to briefly state the reasons why such a process is impossible. R. P. Dutt in his Socialism and the Living Wage states clearly one reason why technical reorganisation has been able to take place in France (to a limited extent), Germany (assisted by foreign capital), and America and not in Britain. The reason, Dutt states: -

Lies in the older historic growth of British capitalism.   The priority which was once an advantage is today a handicap.   The newer capitalist countries were able to start later and more rapidly with a more modern technique and a relatively more planned organisation.   The new colonies outside Europe were free from feudal remains.  In France and Germany the semi-revolutionary effects of war and inflation cleared the ground for reconstruction. On the other hand British capitalism is tied and fettered with an accumulation and network of individualist, sectional and vested rights and interests. In its earlier days capitalism would have struck these obstacles out of its path as the rights of the landholders were overridden by the advancing railways.   Today British capitalism is too enfeebled to take a strong line; the bourgeoisie is no longer an advancing class but is menaced by the advance of the proletariat, the whole social and political situation is too delicate for any endangering of the social fabric and every supporter of the existing order, however reactionary and parasitic, has to be preserved . . . only the working class dictatorship can reorganise British industry (Pp. 60-61).

What then is the meaning of the tremendous advances made in productive power? Far from marking a revival of capitalism these advances mark an intensification of the struggle for markets, a worsening of the workers' conditions on a world scale and the next world war.

The chief difference between the workers' movement of the early nineteenth century and that of today is the difference of an epoch of struggle and growth. This is illustrated most strikingly by the Chartist general strike of 1842 and the general strike of May, 1926. Then the strike was only concentrated in the textile areas of the North; then only a few hundred thousand workers took part in the strike. In May, 1926, 4½ million workers answered the call and stood solid defying the State and its troops, tanks and police persecutions. The discipline was perfect, the solidarity unshakable.   After the defeat of the Chartist mass strike the decline of the revolutionary movement commenced, but today it is precisely May, 1926, that marks the turning point in the struggle for the leadership of the British workers. Already the broken threads of proletarian solidarity are being joined and new weapons of struggle are being forged as the movement gathering its strength, slowly leaves Reformism behind and gathers under the banner of social revolution. With the pressure of the capitalist offensive making itself felt increasingly, the working class is slowly gathering its forces for the future mass struggles. Sidney Webb has declared that British Socialism began not with Marx but with Owen and that Owen's Utopianism is the real basis of British Socialism - the class war is an alien doctrine. The Chartist movement showed in embryo that the development of the class-struggle brings a corresponding discarding of Owenism and an approach to Marxism. In the same way the contemporary British working class will through defeat and victory, in the day-to-day struggle, and awakened to consciousness by the Communist Party, learn the lessons of Chartism and march forward to the overthrow of capitalism.

Chartism, long dead and buried by Reformists and capitalists alike, has risen in a stronger, clearer and more powerful form. The "Second Industrial Revolution" which in reality is the increasing socialisation of the methods of production, is the revolutionisation of the methods of production and consequently the revolutionisation of the whole system of society; in so far as it indicates the process taking place, and emphasises the differences with the first Industrial revolution, it can only mean the growth of the revolutionary forces in Britain. Engels points this out in connection with the first industrial revolution saying, "Here in Britain the class struggles were more virulent during the period of the development of big industry. . . .  It is precisely the revolutionisation of time-honoured conditions which revolutionises people's brains" (Engels's letter to Sorge, December 3rd, 1892; our italics). The process now taking place is the "revolutionisation of time-honoured conditions" and the effect is to be seen in the developing class-struggle of the British workers.

(The Labour Monthly, Vol 11, No 1, January 1929)

The following pamphlet appeared around 1977, a duplicated production by the Battersea Labour Party. At that stage there was an upsurge in interest in Labour history, related to a leftward movement among the rank and file membership. I saw Reg Groves speak at a Labour Party day school on his recollections of the General Strike of 1926, and I think that was when I bought the pamphlet. It has been out of print for many years and while preparing some articles for the Revolutionary History website I cleaned up my scanned file of the text for uploading. Like most duplicated originals, it challenges OCR software and there may be some remaining errors that have slipped past me. If so, please inform our webmaster.

I have added some references that might be helpful for those not familiar with the personalities and organisations of the time.

JJ Plant


The General Strike in Battersea 1926

A Reassessment by Reg Groves Reminiscences by Jimmy Lane, Alf Loughton & Harry Wicks

Battersea Labour Party. Price 30p (no date but about 1977 JJP)



'You have placed your all upon the altar of this great movement, and, having placed it there, even if every penny goes, if every asset goes, history will ultimately write up that it was a magnificent generation that was prepared to do it rather than see the miners driven down like slaves.'

Ernest Bevin May 1st 1926

By Reg Groves, author of "The Strange Case of Victor Grayson", and other books of Labour history. Mr Groves lives in Earlsfield.

MAY DAY 1926

May 1st, 1926, fell on a Saturday. Which, with other, more potent reasons was why there assembled on the Thames Embankment, the largest, liveliest May Day procession since the end of World War One.

Massive with bands and trade union banners, splashed with red flags, ribbons and bunting, bright with cartloads of children dressed in red and white and singing socialist songs, the procession set out in its noisy, cheerful way, bound for Hyde Park. Not by the usual route, though, for it made detour to Ludgate Circus and Farringdon Street, to pass the Memorial Hall where a specially summoned conference was meeting to discuss action in support of the million miners just locked out for refusing to accept lower wages and longer hours. It was hoped that the demonstration would stiffen the morale of weaker brethren (and there were many) among the executives.

But decision had been made before the strains of 'England Arise' heralded the oncoming procession. A dramatic roll-call vote had been taken, and unions with a total membership of 3,653,527 had said 'Yes' to strike action in support of the miners, while unions with 49,911 had said 'No'. Outside the Hall, trade unionists shouted the news to the marchers -"Strike - midnight Sunday".

The words passed swiftly back along the parading lines, now more than two miles long. A visible elation bubbled among the marchers; banners were lifted higher, steps quickened, bandsmen blew more heartily, drummers thumped harder. A similar exuberance stirred the thousands lining the entrances to the Park, which, ominously, was being sandbagged and barb-wired, to be used in the strike as a milk and food depot. Before very long soldiers with fixed bayonets would be guarding the place.

WAR proclaimed the Daily Telegraph placards on Monday. The Government was prepared for war, the TUC did not want even to fight.

TRUST YOUR LEADERS, advised the Daily Herald that morning. "Never was this more necessary than it is now....". All hope of peace gone, the TUC sent out its message to the workers:

"The Trade Unions are fighting in defence of the mineworkers. The responsibility for the national crisis lies with the Government.... Stand firm and we shall win."

As the afternoon and evening shifts came away from workshops factories and foundries, the strike made its quiet, almost unnoticed beginning.


It was on Tuesday that the completeness of the stoppage revealed itself. There were no trains, no buses, no tubes, no trams and - that evening - no evening newspapers. In every industry where the workers were called out - and in some where they weren't - they came out to a man. Surveying its first reports from all over the country, the General Council declared that the response to the strike call "surpassed all our expectations.... the difficulty has been to keep the men...."..

In London office, shop and other workers not involved in the strike walked, cycled, travelled in lorries to their place of business. (It was noticed at public meetings held in the streets during lunch time in the City and West End that many white collar workers were sympathetic to the Trade Union cause and gave generously to collections on behalf of the miners.)

Throughout Tuesday afternoon and evening London's taxi drivers did great business, and many lucrative days were ahead. Yet the taxi men sent a donation to TUC headquarters at Eccleston Square with a plea; "Call us out. We feel like blacklegs with the busmen and tram-men out, and we don't like carrying these blankety-blank business men around." At mid-night Wednesday the taxi drivers, including owner drivers, stopped work. (After the strike, the cabbies were heavily penalised by the Government for this action.)

The Government set its forces in motion. The whole apparatus of repressive machinery had been mobilised: police, troops and special constables were distributed throughout the country's industrial areas. Warships steamed into important ports. Arrests were made on flimsiest of pretexts –'incitement' to strikes, publication or distribution of leaflets and bulletins, manning the picket line. Altogether there were 1,760 prosecutions for 'incitement' and 1,389 for 'violence'.

One of the first Battersea arrests was that of Shapurji Saklatvala, Communist and Labour MP for Battersea North, who, in a speech at the May Day Hyde Park gathering had urged soldiers to lay down their arms rather than turn them on strikers. At Bow Street on May 5th, after refusing to be bound over to keep the peace, he was sent to prison for two months. Scores were arrested in Battersea subsequently, the last during the strike being Thomas Strudwick[1] and Alf Loughton. On the day that the strike ended, May 12th, they were arrested for distributing duplicated strike bulletins at meetings of railwaymen, Alf being accused also of shouting to the railwaymen as they went in, "Don't go back, you won't get your rights". Both men were sent to prison for two months.


On Wednesday, May 5th, the British Gazette [2]made its first appearance, published from the offices of the Morning Post with Winston Churchill in the editorial chair. He enjoyed himself to the full in this position. Strikers were denounced as enemies of their country, blacklegs and volunteers hailed as patriots. The issue was presented as between constitutional government and bolshevism, or, sometimes 'anarchy'.

Consisting of four badly printed pages, the Gazette was, unlike the many tiny almost illegible sheets that made uncertain appearances during the strike with Daily Mirror, Daily Express and Chronicle on them mute testimony to the solidarity of the printers. In fact, when the Gazette started it had one typesetter only - a former linotype operator turned manager loaned by Lord Beaverbrook.

On the Wednesday evening, in reply, the General Council began publication of the British Worker. As the first run was about to begin, a small army of police and detectives descended on the offices. After searching for the heavily-censored issue in vain for sedition, the police withdrew, and amid a singing of the Red Flag in the works and streets outside, the British Worker[3] went to press.

A few days later, the Government confiscated all the British Worker's paper supplies. Only by scrounging paper of all shapes and sizes from various Labour and Socialist weeklies was the paper able to carry on. By the end of the strike it was printing 750,000 copies nightly, and editions were being published in Manchester and Glasgow.

A military cordon was drawn around the London Docks; and two battalions of Guards protected the five hundred students and clerks who unloaded the few food ships there. The food was convoyed from the docks, escorted by cavalry, armoured cars and mounted police, with each lorry guarded by armed, steel helmeted soldiers.

For miles the main roads of dockland were lined with strikers watching the convoys pass shouting friendly, derisive words to the soldiers, thousands of dockers wearing decorations and medals won in the first world war.

The strike was declared illegal by a Judge, and by Sir John Simon[4] in the House of Commons. Blacklegs were promised protection in their jobs after the strike was over. A Government statement that the "Armed forces would receive full support of the Government in any action that they may find it necessary to take in an honest endeavour to aid the Civil Power" provoked a protest from King George V who described it as "An unfortunate announcement."

On May 11 the Cabinet decided to seize union funds and to arrest members of the General Council, but this was not put into action at once, counsels of caution prevailing. No one was sure what might follow such drastic action.


The TUC's lack of preparation created many difficulties. The fact that there was by no means a clear list of workers to be called out made for much trouble. Each union called out its own members and as there were some eighty unions with either all, or some of their members involved, it was not surprising that there was overlapping, conflicting instructions and confusion at the receiving end of the orders.

Men and women came out, were ordered back, came out again. Those not called out or judged to be on work the TUC felt should not be stopped found themselves in confusion from the start. In factories where transport men were called out by their union, while the operatives stayed in on their union's orders, materials would arrive in lorries driven by clerks, managers, students and other blacklegs. Building workers on municipal housing told to stay in saw their cement being delivered by blackleg drivers, and promptly came cut on strike.

Communications were inadequate though battalions of despatch riders from the TUC thundered along the main; roads, bringing to centres where the strikers were isolated and at the mercy of distorted and untruthful radio bulletins, their first news from the TUC of the progress of the strike elsewhere. Few armies can have been so badly led as the strikers of May 1926.

Yet its success and solidarity grew with every day that passed. It was saved and strengthened by two things - the amazing spirit displayed by the workers and the abilities demonstrated for improvised organisation.

Every area had its committees or councils of action; as the extent of the strike varied from town to town so did the committees. Some were small but nevertheless effective. Others had powerful Councils of Action, representing all organised and quite a few, unorganised workers in their areas. Councils and committees organised a wide range of activities, including the issue of permits to employers to shift food-stuffs and other necessities, the organising of picketing, communication with outlying areas and HQ, raising funds for needy cases a organising social activities, meetings and parades, and publishing local cyclostyled or printed bulletins.

Battersea's Council of Action came into being within a few hours of the strike call: with Jack Clancy as its chairman and George Fineran as its secretary, it spanned out from the Trades Council and Labour Party to become representative of most organised trade unionists and socialists in the area - within days it had 27 delegates from seventy organisations. It organised an enthusiastic meeting for the miners at the Town Hall - both hall packed, crowds outside turned away, and a thunderous reception and support for the two speakers from the Miners Union, one of whom, Noah Ablett[5], from South Wales, being arrested as he left the meeting by Special Branch officers. He had repeated Saklatvala's[6] call to the soldiers, but next day was merely bound over and released.

The Council of Action which met daily at the Lower Town Hall set up a series of special committees to handle various aspects of the strike - propaganda including publication of a daily bulletin, relief, transport, permits to employers for the handling of essential supplies, and social activities. As police violence against pickets and peaceful outdoor meetings increased, the Council considered organising a Defence Corps to protect pickets.

For the first few days of the strike, the TUC permitted lorries carrying food and other essentials to move. It became a common sight to see lorries on the roads bearing the words: "By permission of the TUC". When employers abused the permits ("people are often found masquerading as loaves of bread" reported one strike bulletin) the TUC stopped the permits.

Mass picketing in industrial areas was often wide flung and effective. "A mass picket in action was an impressive sight: the wide sweeping lines of official pickets closing in on a lorry or car; the check, the decision to let it through or turn it back or to impound it; the sudden engulfing of an odd tram or bus driven by volunteers and heavily guarded, by a black sea of people; and occasionally the rapid dismantling of hostile cars.

Muddle side by side with efficiency; great hearted enthusiasm among the rank and file, timidity and faint heartedness among the leaders; good humoured relations between police and strikers in some areas, savage conflict in others; a grim note of war in Government statements and actions, a calm, unshakable confidence among the millions on strike - all these were facets of the struggle.

As order came out of confusion, as local committees grew in effectiveness, the strike gained in power and numbers. "There are more workers out today than there have been at any moment since the strike began", reported the British Worker on May 11. On May 12 the second line was called out, the shipbuilding and engineering workers. In the shipyards and larger factories the men came out solidly; in factories where union organisation was weak, little groups of loyal trade unionists walked out quietly and nobly to certain disaster.

The strikers were confident; their power was growing not diminishing. From among some sections of the employers and middle classes there came demands for a re-opening of negotiations, and for peace. In one area Government supply organisations broke down: the regional chief went cap in hand to the Council of Action for help. The Council refused and was planning its own food supply organisation when the strike came to an end.

Even more important as an indication of the growing danger to the Government and its cause - the mood of the strikers was changing. Almost without being aware of it, men and women on strike had ceased to regard the issue as one between mine owners and miners: the fight was now against a Government representing the employers as a class, a Government that might have to be overthrown along with the system it upheld, if the workers were to get justice.


At twelve noon on May 12 with the strike at its most powerful and signs of uncertainty and of division in the Government ranks, representatives of the TUC's General Council went to Downing Street. After being kept waiting for a time, they were ushered in to meet Mr Baldwin[7], Neville Chamberlain[8], Lord Birkenhead[9] and other Cabinet ministers.

To TUC chairman Pugh[10], Baldwin said, "Mr Pugh, you will be good enough to make a statement". To which Pugh replied, "The strike is terminated forthwith in order that negotiations may proceed".

The ubiquitous Sir Herbert Samuel[11] had returned from holidaying in Italy on May 7 to offer his services to the Government and the General Council as a negotiator. He put proposals before the General Council, implied that the Government was aware of them, and would ultimately endorse them; and the General Council clutched at these as a basis for calling off the General Strike. Only when all was decided and irrevocable were the miners consulted. The miners rejected the proposals and pointed out that in any case the Government was unlikely to accept them. They did not trust Samuel any more than they did the Government or the General Council

"You may not trust my word", protested Thomas[12] to the miners, ''but will you not accept the word of a British gentleman who has been governor of Palestine?"

The miners would not. The General Council went to Downing Street without them and called off the strike without getting any promises at all, not even one to safeguard their own members against victimisation. It was called off unconditionally. It was complete capitulation.

The news was broadcast at one o'clock.

When the news reached the strike committees, most of them did not believe it – "We are winning, why should it be called off?". Many decided that they had won, and this belief was confirmed by TUC messages, and by the British Worker, which headlined that evening "GREAT STRIKE TERMINATED, Trade Union Congress satisfied that miners will now get a fair deal".

But even as the strike bulletins went out on the streets reporting a workers' victory, the truth became clearer with every radio broadcast. It was not victory but defeat - defeat without battle, surrender. The strike was over but the miners were still locked out. There were angry scenes in strike committee rooms, there were tears and heartbreak, bitterness and despair. Terrible hours followed in strike headquarters all over the country - and they could have been much more terrible, much more heartrending but for what followed at the eleventh hour.

TOTAL SURRENDER headlined the official British Gazette, and added, more ominously, "Reinstatement: No Obligations Incurred", Employers were free, it seemed to make their own terms for the strikers' return to work, to victimise the active trade unionists, to impose the harshest conditions on everyone, perhaps to break the union. Encouraged by the apparent defeat of the strike, the police made savage baton charges in East London and elsewhere and special constables battered trade unionists in strike committee rooms at Nine Elms.

"What will you do now?" asked a newspaperman, who had brought the stark news to the Stourbridge Strike Committee. "Double the pickets:" was the answer all over Britain. There were more out on strike on the day after the strike was called off than before, observers noticed white-faced Cabinet ministers coming into the Chamber of the House of Commons - the strike had spread, and it was no longer under the control of the TUC leaders:

Baldwin broadcast an appeal to employers. ''No one" he said, "had lost or won, it was a victory for common sense." NO REPRISALS proclaimed that most unscrupulous and hostile enemy of trade unionism, the Daily Mail which the day before had headlined THE DEFEAT OF THE REVOLUTIONARIES. So, a fighting retreat, a fighting rear-guard action by the workers, and the long, dogged, distressful seven months resistance that followed, saved the unions from complete rout, and checked partially the employers' offensive against living standards.


The section which follows consists of extracts from a tape - recorded interview on April 11 1976 of three men who were actively involved in the General Strike in Battersea.

Jimmy Lane, Alf Loughton and Harry Wicks were aged between 20 and 22 at the time of the strike and they were friends together in the Young Communist League, as well as being in the Labour Party.

Jimmy Lane was a representative of the bricklayers union on the Council of Action which directed the strike effort from the Lower Town Hall. He was probably the youngest member of the Council of Action and he is the only known surviving member of it.

Alf Loughton was arrested on the last day of the strike and served five weeks In Wormwood Scrubs

Both Mr Lane and Mr Loughton have been Mayor, of Battersea and Wandsworth respectively and they both live in Battersea. Harry Wicks now lives in Twickenham.

(The words in brackets are added editorial explanations).


AL: We three were very close friends at the time and we went on every demonstration for May Day.

HW: The outstanding memory (of the May Day 1926 march) was as the march got past Memorial Hall in Farringdon Road where the TUC executive conference was sitting, so the delegates came out and reported that the General Strike was called for the Third (of May). That gave a dramatic impetus to that May Day demonstration, which was a tremendous affair in Hyde Park. Saklatvala, who was the MP for North Battersea, got arrested that day in Hyde Park.

The situation industrially in Battersea in 1926 was that the railways had a tremendous segment of the Battersea working class at the time, coupled with the building industry which had numerous trade union branches. Then in addition you had a number of factories where the organisation of the workers, trade union-wise, was not particularly strong, Morgan's Crucible Works, Carsons, Whiffens, the chemical works, were examples of an unorganised working class who nevertheless played a part in the General Strike.

From 1920 - 1921 onwards, the Labour movement in Battersea was particularly left, a left-wing Labour movement. Even the Labour council reflected that. The Labour Party swept the board in the council elections of November 1919 and from that point they adopted a very progressive policy which was out of step with national Labour Party thinking.

With the Amenities Committee and the Entertainments Committee and the granting of milk to school children, and you even had the tentative talk of child welfare and birth control, and things like that.

In addition to that, at the Liverpool Labour Party Conference of 1925 the MacDonald[13] right-wing of the Labour Party established that Communists were not eligible to be members of the Party. The Communist Party at that time was an affiliated body to the Battersea Labour Party. As a result, in February 1926, preceding the General Strike, the Battersea Trades and Labour Council, as it was then, was disaffiliated (from the National Party).


AL: Jimmy and I were in the Battersea No 1 branch of the Bricklayers Union, AUBTW[14]. Now within that branch there were some very prominent people who had been councillors for a long number of years. Jimmy's father had been a member of the council from 1900, and prior to that, he was a member of the parish council of Battersea.

There were also people who could express themselves, from the SPGB[15]. Another member of the council, Chesterman, apart from politics, a rather studious man, who told me that he used to take days off from work before 1914, get a good book out of the library about socialist theory and social problems and just lay in the park and read it. This was his attitude and philosophy of life and I think that in many respects we patterned ourselves on that. If a new book came out either by Upton Sinclair or Sinclair Lewis - or whether it was by Lenin - we used to get it from the library and gobble it up as soon as we could.

JL: It was a very exhilarating period particularly for us youngsters in that 20-22 age group. You've got to remember that the Russian revolution had only occurred nine years before, in 1917, and that is why we felt that the revolution was just round the corner. Our whole life was based on the fact that capitalism was on its way out and before long we would be in the forefront of a new world which we were going to usher in.

AL: During the strike, Harry and I were together quite a lot. We both went over to the petrol depot at Townmead Road, Fulham, where there was a petrol company called the Union Jack - on the petrol tins they used to have a Union Jack. When we felt that the factories (in Battersea) were all quite 100% we were either instructed, or took it upon ourselves, to go over there, and have a little talk with the girls - because it was operated by girls - in this depot. Quite rightly we thought - if the government can get the emergency supplies of food with the lorries using the petrol - that this was something, in order to bring pressure to bear, that we should do something about. So we went there on one afternoon and succeeded - without a vote, or anything. It just happened the following morning that the girls weren't there. We heard a day afterwards that the soldiers had been planted in there, so we cheeky b******s, - we went over to talk to the soldiers and tell them.

It was quite exciting for us two, because we got over there on bicycles and the police never had cars, like they've got now. The women, who brought chairs out for us and a cup of tea, were very sympathetic to what we were doing. I don't know whether we succeeded but they phoned up the police and along came the police on white chargers, but before they got there, the women had tipped us off that they were riding along Townmead Road, and of course we skedaddled on our bicycles and never got questioned about it.


HW: My memory of those nine days is that I was working on the railway. I was a member of Battersea No 1 NUR[16] (branch) which was dominated by a chap called Tom Pocock, who was a councillor. A very J H Thomas set-up was the Battersea No 1 NUR, and for that reason after the disaffiliation of the Battersea Trades and Labour Council my branch withdrew and so it was not represented on the Council of Action. Although at the time, the general consensus in Labour leading circles - that's the Labour establishment, the councillors and those who eventually organised the right-wing Trades and Labour Council - was a sort of mutual agreement to see the thing through.

For example on the Council of Action which occupied the Lower Town Hall, day and night for 24 hours a day, (Councillor) Archer used to have a section there interviewing the chaps, because he was Labour representative on the Guardians with Prichard (Councillor Rev A G) and those people used to look after the needy.

The general situation was that in Battersea at that time there was a very sizable and well-organised unemployed workers' movement. I can remember one of the earliest initiatives they adopted on the day of the declaration of the strike. I went to Unity Hall (NUR headquarters) to report to the strike committee, and the picketing arrangements were tied up, so I wasn't involved in the packet. So I fell in with the arrangement which the leaders of the unemployed workers movement were making at that time, which was a march round the factories of Battersea.

We went down Battersea Square, Battersea Church Road, Morgan's, Carson's, Whiffens and along York Road to Nine Elms and so on. People were wanting to come out. At that time there used to be a generating station down Lombard Road, which was owned by the council, and I can remember now that old chap, George Mott, who was the ETU[17] steward, coming out to wonder what the position of those men were:, because they weren't called out the ETU at that station - whether it was because it was run by the municipality or not, I don't know - but I can remember old George Mott and his limping leg coming out to greet that demonstration. The demonstration used to stop outside each factory, hold a meeting, explain the General Strike and get a response.

Also at Morgan's Crucible, that's where old Bill Savage, the one who subsequently had the broom in Battersea, (ie worked as a council roadsweeper) came out and he was the one who led Morgan Crucible out on strike as a result of that demonstration.

From that moment on, in Battersea, at the Princes' Head, every night, there was a meeting. Now you spoke there, Jim (Lane), Jack Clancy spoke there, and (Councillor) Andrews was there and there was a busman named Cousins. He was from the Battersea bus garage up by Battersea Bridge.

He used to speak there daily and I spoke there daily. I remember those meetings starting. It used to be on the corner outside the bank, the corner of Winders Road, that runs down to a railway arch. I can remember when those meetings started and you pitched the platform up outside the bank and with the huge crowds that assembled there you had to take the platform deeper and deeper into Winders Road. Vast crowds. Mind you it was a very favourable time. We had been speaking as kids down at Princes' Head every Sunday morning where we had no audience. But this was our heyday. You were addressing people as far as your voice carried.


In the first period, the first seven or eight days of the strike, the police seemed to be playing it very quietly. There was no open hostility. I can't remember any open manifestation of the special constabulary In Battersea. But as the thing got nearer the critical point, that is, when the Baldwin-Thomas sell out was about to be consummated, then you had a change in the relations between the police and the agitation for the strike. There were two incidents that I remember.

I was in Unity Hall discussing the organisation of the return to work and the proposal was to march back to work. I can remember railway chaps coming in and saying that Alf (Loughton) had been arrested by the police.

The other incident which is about police change of behaviour is this. The ASLEF[18], who were the locomotive men, and two NUR branches, used to be organised at Nine Elms and they used to meet at a club, opposite Larkhall Rise, on Wandsworth Road, that was their headquarters. Now on the day before the end of the strike when this change was visible in the attitude of the police there was a baton charge by the Special constabulary on the assembled railwaymen.

That seemed to me to show that the forces of the state were synchronised for a more offensive and aggressive attitude towards the strikers at the moment of the sellout.

JL: The Council of Action used to meet every morning and it would be there all day, right until the evening, in the Lower Town Hall and occasionally during that nine days we had the Large Hall for meetings, in the day time. We used to meet there every morning. We used to have reports come in from various factories and representatives of workers who wanted to come out, because the TUC didn't call everybody out. It used to issue permits for vans to carry goods - "By permission of the TUC". People from a little factory might come in and say can we send stuff to so and so. And if we thought it right we would issue a permit saying we sanctioned it. Of course much stuff went by road without our sanction, but nevertheless we did sanction some and that was one of the purposes of the Council of Action meeting.

An amusing event took place one day towards the middle of the strike. An enthusiastic delegate came running into the committee to tell us that the ice-cream boys had downed tricycles and were coming out on strike. Of course that made our day, for that day, and we were convinced that the strike would be successful once they had decided to come out on strike. But that is an indication of the enthusiasm of people who wanted to come out on strike, who weren't involved at the beginning, and were not members of a trade union. It was the spirit that existed at that time.


HW: Battersea industrially, was stopped. You could stand, which we as railwaymen had an eye to, you could stand at the top of Town Hall Road, Lavender Hill, you could see the vast expanse of that railway, the tracks, and not a train passing. You remember that 2LO, the broadcasting at that time (BBC) was giving a picture that the services were getting back to normal. But the general overall picture of that vast Clapham Junction and its network of railways was that nothing was moving. The same applied to the factories in Battersea.

The overall picture was one of unanimity behind the strike and that was best expressed on the day when Clancy (chairman of the Council of Action) came back from Eccleston Square (TUC headquarters) to report. I remember that meeting in the Town Hall that packed meeting, where Clancy - Clancy regarded himself as a revolutionary and I personally feel that he was - was booed and shouted at by that mass meeting, when he came back with the announcement that the General Strike was surrendered, I was particularly friendly with Jack Clancy and owed him a lot from the time I was 14. I know how shattered he was by the experience - not only by the betrayal - but the fact that he was shouted at by a mass meeting of workers.


AL: My arrest was on the last day of the strike, the day the strike was called off. I was given some of the leaflets that had been issued - I think the source was the Communist Party - calling upon the railwaymen not to return to work. As I mingled among the crowd of railwaymen, all waiting for news from inside the building (Unity Hall) from the officials, I felt merry and bright and quite unconscious of the fact that there were three or four policemen in plain clothes trailing me, ready at the signal of the inspector, to pick me up by the arse of the trousers and the scruff of the neck, and yank me out.

They handled me a bit rough but I put that down to the fact that they'd been inspired by the top people in the police force, that we were a load of mad revolutionaries that were going to set the world on fire and no doubt many of them believed it and thought we were, the same way as they might think of terrorists today. So I got that treatment although I very indignantly thought I was innocent of doing any harm, and I thought that I was doing good.

Anyway they yanked me out of the crowd, to some concern - but no demonstration to save me by the railwaymen - and they frogmarched me down along to the bottom of Falcon Road to the Princes Head and then along Battersea High Street, and then among the Church Road out at the turning by the police station at Battersea Bridge Road. When I got in there I had to turn out all my pockets. The charges were first of all of obstructing the police. Well, when someone's got hold of you - four strong policemen - so that you couldn't even bloody wriggle, never mind do anything else, it seemed a bit absurd, but anyway they charged me.

While they were doing that, Jimmy's father had been alerted, and he had previously been the Mayor of Battersea so he came and he bailed me out on sureties of £50 him and £50 me - I never had fifty pennies on me.

JL: When we (JL and HW) heard Alf Loughton had been arrested we went up to the police station to enquire whether we could bail him out. So as we walked into the station two coppers fell in behind us, shut the doors, and stood on guard at the door as we walked in. So we saw the Chief Inspector and said: "We understand you've arrested Mr Loughton - we've come to ask whether we can bail him out."

So he said: "Oh, that's what you want to know is it;'' and with that he darted round the corner and he said "I am searching you under the Emergency Powers Act[19]." and meanwhile outside were two policemen watching so we couldn't do a bunk. Well we instantly thought - or at least I did and I expect that the same went through Harry's mind as to what we had on us.

Because you see the strike had been declared off we would have had pamphlets on us which were recommending the workers to stay out. Well, you could be arrested for having one of those pamphlets, never mind distributing them, because that was classed as sedition. It was no longer part of an official trade union strike. This was an attempt to keep the strike going.

So he started to search me and as he tapped my pockets preparing to put his hand in, he felt my pipe inside, so he said "What's that?" I said "That's a revolver"..... Well, I had the feeling that I had said exactly the right thing because this put him off carrying on with his search, which otherwise he would have done. The net result was that he didn't put his hand right down in my inside pocket. Then he searched Harry and he fortunately had nothing on him.

So they had apparently found nothing and he said, "Well go on b***** off out", which we did, very speedily. Going down the road I pulled out of the bottom of my pocket one of the pamphlets. If he had put his hand down further, I would have been inside with Alf.


HW: On the termination of the strike, not only in Battersea but the national picture as well was one of victimisation. On the railways I can remember now the notice that was put up at Nine Elms, at the Plough Road carriage department and at Victoria Station. It said "You are taken back subject to the exigencies of the service.'' That was the key word – 'exigencies'.

The Battersea railwaymen decided that they would not go back as individuals but as a formation, so we marched from Battersea, from Unity Hall in Falcon Road, to Victoria Station As we came along Buckingham Palace Road we turned in where the taxis go in and Old Hopper the Station Superintendent was there in his shiny topper waiting for us. We were told to line up outside his office. The railways generally after the strike adopted the process of sorting out individuals, and shuffling them around.

In Battersea No 1 Branch (of the NUR) there were quite a number who were moved to different parts of the line, and away from their homes. I was moved down to Deal in Kent. Old Bill Savage at Morgans - he never went back to Morgans, he was an example. I'm sure that that chap who was a busman at Battersea bus garage (Cousins) - he never went back on the buses. The general consensus was that this was a defeat in which the known militants were sorted out workwise.

From that moment on the movement in Battersea united to raise money for the miners, because the miners carried on the strike for about six months.

But the level of the movement generally was of defeat, of demoralisation and you had - noticeably in the NUR, and I don't think that the other unions were exceptions to it - a fall away from the unions and a decline in the movement generally.

[1]Strudwick was active in the Council of Action in nearby Southwark, see

Biting the hand . .

Tribune 30th September 1960

Four Absentees Rayner Heppenstall (Bowie and Rocklift. 13s. 6d.).

THE AUTHOR of this book encountered Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, Eric Gill and John Middleton Murry in the mid-1930s; and kept up a tenuous, and sometimes precarious, relationship with them all in the years that followed.

All four are dead. That he knew them, and that they knew each other, is a matter of profound significance to Mr. Heppenstall.

"To me," he writes, "the most important fact of all about any of these men was their coexistence with each other and with me." It appears to have been as unsatisfactory a coexistence as that today between the Communist powers and the West.

Mr. Heppenstall tells us several times that Dylan had "fat lips." He recalls Dylan drunk; Dylan helping a policeman to twist the helplessly drunk Heppenstall's arms, Dylan needing a bed for the night and crying aloud, "O God, I'm so tired of sleeping with women I don't even like," Dylan getting up a manifesto against the war because, declares Heppenstall, he was "in a panic at the thought that he, too, might be called up"; Dylan "disconcertingly fellow travelling"; and advances the theory that Dylan when in the States deliberately took an overdose of alcohol in order to commit suicide.

George Orwell, according to the author, had a "painfully snickering laugh" and a "curious mind . . . full of interesting and out-of-the-way information like Tit-Bits, but arid, - colourless, devoid of poetry, derisive, yet darkly obsessed." His girl friends were all unsatisfactory to Mr. Heppenstall - one was "mouse-coloured and bespectacled, with a squint and a stoop"; another had a figure "too broad in relation to its height" and a third had a "muddy complexion" and a "manner forced and girlish." We are told also of the time when Orwell, annoyed because Heppenstall had arrived back at the flat they were sharing drunk and noisy, locked Heppenstall in his room. When Heppenstall hammered on the door demanding to be let out, Orwell flung it open and attacked him with a shooting stick, his face "a curious blend of fear and sadistic exaltation." On another occasion, Orwell, convinced that he was "biologically sterile" had to be "rescued from a tart" by Heppenstall, who also passes on an opinion that Orwell was an homosexual.

Having criticised Dylan for his fellow-travelling, Heppenstall reproves Orwell for being contemptuous of fellow-travelling intellectuals. Orwell's indignation, when both the New Statesman and a celebrated Left-wing publisher refused to publish Orwell's criticisms of the Communists in Spain and his defence of the outlawed, persecuted Left-wing POUM, is dismissed "paranoiac?' Murry's troubled, wayward pilgrimage, as well as his domestic misfortunes, are reported coldly, without a trace of sympathy or affection. Eric Gill's excessive interest in the genitals is stressed, and remarks of Gill's quoted appear to be chosen as being those most likely to hurt and offend Gill's friends and admirers.

All four absentees are presented at their worst, in undignified postures and at disadvantage; there is neither kindness nor balance here - only malice.

The cumulative effect of it all is a most unpleasant one.

Why has Mr. Heppenstall taken time off from decrying the literature of his own country to write this book and attempt to reduce the stature of four absent authors? The answer to this may be found perhaps in the account Mr. Heppenstall gives of himself during the period he is covering.

For he is at great pains to show that he got as drunk as Dylan is supposed to have got; that he coughed blood just as Dylan coughed blood; that at one time he was thought to have TB just like Orwell, and like "two of Murry's wives." He tells us, too, that, like Gill he went in for Roman Catholicism - though he didn't stay with it long - and he tried to follow Murry in some of Murry's political and religious ventures.

It is as though he is trying to say that he was up to all the tricks they were up to; was as good - or as bad - as they were; and cannot see why there is all this fuss about them and no fuss at all about him.

How far Mr. Heppenstall's memory can be trusted it is impossible to say. But if his recollections are accurate then it would certainly seem that there is something about him which brings the worst out in people.

Which may explain why Murry described Heppenstall as "a pariah dog that will always bite the hand that feeds it." Why George Orwell, when he struck at Heppenstall with a shooting stick, wore on his face an expression of "sadistic exaltation." Why Dylan, when he gave Heppenstall's arm a "good twist" on the way to the police station, did it with a "horrible chuckle."