Sunday, 25 September 2016

Radical and Mutual Clapham - Part 3

Clapham saw a major political change in 1885 with the creation of the Metropolitan Borough of Battersea and Clapham. This was divided into two  Parliamentary constituencies: Battersea and the much larger Clapham area which included Nine Elms, and South Battersea from Lavender Hill down into north Balham.  The Clapham Liberal and Radical Association was  set up. It managed to get James Moulton elected with 52.1% of the vote on a high turnout of 80.7% of the 9,954 electors. He lost the following year.

Clapham Liberals and Radicals were now linked with their Battersea counterparts fighting the elections for the Battersea Vestry, so the story becomes closely linked with the liberal, radical and socialist politics of Battersea, in which John Burns welded together a  Progressive Alliance, creating organisations like the Battersea Labour League and the Battersea Trades & Labour Council. Clapham also had its equivalents and these were part of the Alliance and the Battersea Trades & Labour Council.  The Progressive Alliance, which achieved Burns’s election to the London County Council at the end of 1889 and as MP in 1892, went on to control the Vestry until 1900 when Clapham and Battersea were separated with Clapham going into the new Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth. The Conservatives of the period won the Clapham Parliamentary seat between 1886 and 1900 and then the new smaller constituency from 1900.

Other radical developments included the Clapham Reform Club, at which the Irish  poet Yeats set up the Irish Literary Society in 1892. He also lectured on ‘Nationality and Literature’ at the Clapham branch of the Irish National league. The socialist Clarion movement had supporters. Frederick Arthur Maule of 6893 Wandsworth Rd was a member of its Field Club in 1895. W. H. Crisp , the Secretary of the Clapham Clarion cyclists lived at 43 Wirtemberg St. By 1907 they were members of the South London Club. The planned Clapham Clarion Cinderella Club quickly became the Clapham Socialist Sunday School at Marris Hall in 1907. Morris Hall was used by Clapham Independent Labour Party. In 1907 the South London Clarion cyclists supported fundraising for the London Clarion Van which was to tour promoting socialist ideas. The London Van Committee Secretary Frederick Hagger lived in Clapham. That year at a Fellowship Gathering the cyclists and their friends raised money for the Variety  Artistes Federation’s Music Hall Strike Fund.

1907 also saw a fund raising benefit for Thomas Atkinson at Battersea Town Hall. Born in the North East he had been an apprentice engineer on The Rocket. He was a trade union activist from the 1830s. By 1907 he was a widower and bedridden living on a union pensions with his daughter Elizabeth at 52 Courland Grove.

By now the suffragette movement was active in the area. Mrs F Underwood of 16 Newland Terrace, Queens Rd, the Secretary of the Clapham branch of the Women’s Freedom League from 1908 became National Propaganda Secretary in 1911 and then national General Secretary, and also edited its newspaper The Voice.

Following the Russian Revolution at the end of the First World War various socialist groups across Britain merged together to form the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. The Clapham British Socialist Party (formerly SDF) branch was represented and a member A. A. Watts became the first Treasurer of the new Party. He was also a Labour London County Councillor for Battersea.

Also at the Convention was another Clapham BSP member living the compositor Alfred M. Wall (1890–1957). In 1919 he was elected to Wandsworth Borough Council for Clapham North. He was Labour candidate for Streatham in the 1924 General Election. In 1926  he was elected as Secretary of London Trades Council. The next year he became a joint secretary of the ‘Hands Off China’ campaign. He helped to set up what became Equity. Later he was a Vice-President of the Spanish medical Aid Committee. In In 1938, Wall was elected as General Secretary of the London Society of Compositors. He retired in 1945.

During the General Strike of 1926 the Nine Elms Joint Workers Committee was based at the Clapham Trades Union & Social Club at 374 Wandsworth Rd, while the Lambeth Strike Committee was based at the New Morris Hall at 79 Bedford Rd.

In the May 1929 General Election Labour fielded the ILP member J. Allen Skinner. A conscientious objector in the First World War he went on to edit Peace News (1951-5) and be on early CND committees. At the October 1931 General Election Helen Browning was the candidate standing against the National Government led by former Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. She later worked at the Society for Cultural Relations with the Soviet Union, and Hon. Secretary of the China Defence League raising money for China in its war against Japan. Being based with her husband in Hong King, she  was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.  Back in London in 1951 she became a Labour London County Councillor for Fulham East (1952-65) and chaired the Fabian Society’s Colonial bureau.

Clapham elected John Rose Battley as its first Labour MP in 1945 (to 1950).
The Labour MP for Clapham from 1964 to 1970 was  Margaret McKay (1911-96), a Lancashire textile worker who became Chief Woman Officer at the TUC 1951-62. She became a campaigner for the Palestinian refugees, setting up a refugee camp in Trafalgar Square, and chaired the Jordan Refugee Week Committee. She wrote a moving autobiography Generation in Revolt (1953).

I hope that this blog posting may stimulated further research by others. There are three issues that need to be kept sight of:
  • ·     What is Clapham, given its historic parish, parliamentary and local council boundaries? These postings have tried to concentrate on the parish boundaries.

  • ·     In order to make sense of population statistics did the Census area called ‘Clapham’ go through boundary changes.

  • ·     Close attention needs to be paid to the problem that some Clapham addresses are given as Battersea in early 19thC newspapers.   

Radical and Mutual Clapham - Part 2

The period of the 1830s to the 1860s sees the creation of more friendly societies: the Clapham Friendly (1843), the True Brothers of Clapham Friendly Society (1845), the Clapham & Wandsworth Burial Society and the Clapham and Stockwell Coal Club (1848), the Local Pride of Surry, the Independent Order of Old Friends and the Clapham Mutual Benefit (1855), and the Hand of Friendship Mutual benefit (1856).

There were also ‘branches’ of the largest national mutual benefit societies of the Oddfellows and Foresters, which their democratic structures between local  and national levels.   The Foresters had for example the Britannia (1846), the William Wale (1863) and The Reliance (1866) and the Manchester Oddfellows included The Europa (1848) and the Pride of Clapham (1860).

There were also the mutual loan societies: Clapham Workingmen's (1859), Provident LS, Bromells Buildings (1860), Workingmen’s LS Bedford Arms, Independent Labour LS, Union Arms, Friend in Need LS, Tim Bobbin, Orchard St, and Clapham Union LS,  Park Crescent (1861), Clapham FLLS, Bromells Rd and FLLS Olive Branch FLLLS, High St (1863), and Windmill Tavern FLLS, Park Rd and Duke of Cornwall WLS, Lyham Rd (1864).

The 1850s and 1860s also sees evidence of the establishment of retail co-operatives. The London and South Western Railway Co-operative Society was registered 1855 its members working for the railway company. Active members included James Trussler, a bolt maker, of 2 Clifton St (now Courland St), William Boyd, a carpenter and the Secretary in the 1860s, 28 Trigon Rd, off Clapham Rd. It appears to have survived until 1867.

In 1860 there was the Clapham Co-operative based at the Freemasons Arms in Courland Grove, with several of its Trustees living off Larkhall Lane, William Allen, a  hairdresser and Charles Hyde, a coachman.  The following  year it merged into the National Industrial and Provident Society.

Small local trade union organisations of builders met at places like The Sun, and that Clapham building workers took part in the 1859-60 strike for a one hour reduction in pay from ten to nine hours. This led to the formation of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Woodworkers led by Robert Applegarth. The local building unions Clapham link has continued to the present day, as UCATT’s HQ is at 1777 Abbeyville Rd, it having been created by the merger of previous unions in 1971 many of whom had their HQs in Clapham, like the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers at 11 Macauley Rd. Its Chairman between 1912 and 1916 W.W. Barnes lived in Clapham.

To protect their funds trade union leaders like Applegarth kept politics out, but were very active in a  range of political organisations, including the International Workingmen’s Association, along with Karl Marx. It set up the Reform League and one of its Clapham supporters T. Franklin was a member of the organising committee for the League’s Fete and Banquet at Crystal palace in September 1867.

J. L. Turner, the chairman of both The Hand-in-Hand and the Surprise FLLSs along and off  Wandsworth Rd set up at the end of the 1860s, gave an indication that members were in sympathy with the wider movements for social and political reform. At its first anniversary supper there was a toast to  The Beehive which had been set up by George Potter, a leader of the building workers in 1859/60, and Labour and Unity which reported on the activities of mutual societies. In September 1869  he  expressed the hope "ere long he should have the pleasure of seeing their interests properly represented in the British House of Commons by such men as Odger, Guile, Allen, Applegarth, &c." It is possible that Clapham activists were members of the Reform League branches based around Battersea Park.

The editor of the IWMA’s newspaper in the early 1870s,  The International Herald was the republican socialist William Harrison Riley who lived at 7 Bedford Rd. He also edited The Republican Herald, and advocated setting up a co-operative village.

It is likely that many of the railway workers at Clapham Junction and Nine Elms lived in Clapham, along and off Wandsworth Rd, and took a part in the formation of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1871. In spring 1874 bricklayers and labourers at Clapham Baths went on strike for an extra 1d per hour. They were locked out and non-unionised labour  was employed to finish the project.

There was a branch of the National Secular Society from 1879. In neighbouring Battersea it was John Burns’s lecture on Poverty to the Battersea NSS which led to the formation of the Marxist Battersea Social Democratic Federation branch. The Federation had been formed in 1880 with Social being added in 1884. It grew out of the activists in the radical clubs across London. Two local radicals mentioned in The Radical newspaper in 1882 were H. F. Woods of 36 Richmond Terrace and Mrs Sainsbury of Rectory Grove. There was also Richard Smith, a member of the Provisional Council for the Land Nationalisation League which had split off from the Land Nationalisation Society in 1882.

Radical and Mutual Clapham - Part 1

The Clapham area of Lambeth is well known for two things: the base of the anti-slavery Clapham Sect and ‘The Man on the Clapham Omnibus’. Over the years of researching aspects of the histories of the areas covered by today’s Boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth I have accumulated lots of notes about Clapham, which I put together for a talk ‘Radical Clapham’ on 20 September at Clapham Library as part of the  Lambeth Heritage Festival.

I discussed the Clapham Sect – radical in relation to slavery – with William Wilberforce backing the repressive legislation on freedom of speech and organisation the Government led by William Pitt trying to keep the lid on the support for radical and Jacobin ideas associated with Thomas Paine and the French Revolution.

While I have found no information of radical/Jacobin activity in Clapham, a number of residents along with those of Battersea, published a joint declaration proclaiming that every effort would be made to seek out and prosecute anyone associated with sedition. They sent a copy to John Reeves who had organised the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property Against Levellers and Republicans.

An important piece of that legislation was the Friendly Societies Act of 1793 which required relevant organisations to register with the local magistrates giving them legal status and legitimacy. The first Clapham friendly society I have found, is the Friendly Benefit Society at the Plough Inn  registered in 1804. Later registrations include the Union Society at the Sun (1824), the Clapham Benefit Society (1825), and the Friendly Samaritan Society (1831).

While most friendly societies cannot be defined as radical politically, they were radical socially because so many of them were mutual self-help organisations run by their members, who therefore developed experience in  democratic processes, while not having a vote in elections until much later in the 19thC.

The first real evidence of radical activity comes in March 1831 when Richard Carlile’s The Prompter newspaper published a list of over 80 people in Battersea and Clapham who subscribed to the fund to support him and his wife while he was in prison for seditious libel for supporting agricultural workers campaigning against wage cuts. In September he published the names of 57 subscribers to the fund for Rev. Robert Taylor, the freethinker imprisoned for blasphemy. Some of those subscribing called themselves ‘an enemy of priestcraft’, ‘a real reformer’, ‘a republican’, ‘an advocate of free discussion’. It published a letter reporting that three building workers had been sacked by their employer for supporting Taylor.

Between 1832 and 1836 supporters of the National Union of the Working Classes in Battersea and Clapham were regularly meeting. The Poorman’s Guardian newspaper records that a Reeve(s) sold radical newspapers at the Cock Inn in Clapham - he may have been the W. Reeve(s) who had subscribed to both Carlile and Taylor. H. Levi and 5 Republicans in Clapham donated 6/- to the fund for victims of the Six Acts, a further series of repressive laws following the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and the Cato St Conspiracy of 1820.  A man named Simpson collected 6/8d at the Duke of York on Larkhall Lane. There is further mention of fundraising in Clapham in April 1833.

At a meeting that month Reeve was one of the speakers at the Duke of York objecting to an MP’s attempt to ban secular work on Sundays. In 1834 money was collected for the Derby silk workers who first went on strike and then were locked out. A number of collectors were appointed by the NUWC ‘branch’ at a public meeting at Mr. Bowes’ workshop, which may have been near the Plough at Clapham. One of the collectors was Reeve. The Clapham Independent Lodge of Operative Cordwainers also contributed money. Later on money was collected for the Tolpuddle Martyrs including at The Cock.  In 1836, the year Martyrs were pardoned, money was collected at the Dorset Arms in Clapham Rd and passed to the Surrey District Committee of the Dorchester Committee that had been established to fundraise.

1836 saw the change of the NUWC to the London Workingmen’s Association. In 1838 it launched the People’s Charter for Parliamentary reform and suffrage. A local Wandsworth and Clapham Association was set up. It mainly met in pubs in Wandsworth Town. In those days people were prepared to walk long distances, so this would not necessarily have deterred supporters living in Clapham.

Its meeting discussed such subjects as the principles of the Charter, the nature of and relationship between capital and labour, abuses of public charities like hospitals, and issued an address to the men of Surrey to support the Charter.

In the early 1840s John Watkins a Chartist activist moved into Upper Marsh in Lambeth. He wrote regularly for the Chartist newspaper The Northern Star, was a supporter of teetotalism, was the London Chartists full-time paid lecturer. As well as writing plays on themes of the struggle for democracy and rights such as Magna Carta and Wat Tyler, he wrote an influential Address to the Women of England. In 1842 he moved into Battersea. When his father-in law died, he published The Life, Poetry and Letters of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn-Law Rhymer. The couple later moved into Grover Court, Clapham Rise (later RD), where he died in December 1857 or January 1858.

Clapham in this period was part of East Surrey for Parliamentary election purposes. Under the Poor Law Act the Board of Guardians that was created for the area was named Wandsworth & Clapham.