Portraits of Chartist Political Prisoners in 1841

Chartist meetings were banned by proclamation of the government in 1839. Mass arrests followed with Chartists being imprisoned and transported. In a movement that nurtured personality cults and where Chartist leaders vied for the hero-worship of their followers, rancour and rivalry was inevitable.

William Lovett, a member of the ‘London Workingmen’s Association,’ published his People’s Charter in May 1838. Among its provisions, the Charter made a number of political demands which become known as the ‘six points’: (i) universal manhood suffrage; (ii) payment of Members of Parliament; (iii) equal electoral districts; (iv) abolition of property qualifications; (v) annual parliaments; (vi) the ballot. The people who subscribed to the aims of the People’s Charter became known as the Chartists.

As a movement, Chartism is best described as an umbrella group which comprised people from widely differing protest groups. Although some Chartists advocated non-violent means to achieve their aims, such as petitioning (three national petitions, in 1839, 1842 and 1848, were rejected by Parliament which refused to reform itself) and became known as ‘moral force’ Chartists, other Chartists favoured the use of firearms to achieve their aims and became known as ‘physical force’ Chartists. However, most Chartists were inclined to support whatever method they thought was more likely to succeed at any moment in time. Some believed that the very act of acquiring arms – which was legal at the time – would of itself intimidate the government and force it to submit to Chartist demands. Though many never intended to use arms, there were instances when they were used. In August 1848 James Bright, a police constable, was shot dead in the street by Chartists from Ashton-under-Lyne.(1)

Many of the working-class Chartists who were involved in the movement during the late 1830s and 1840s often lived in abject poverty. According to the Chartist historian Mark Hovel, ‘intolerable conditions of existence’ were the driving force behind Chartism.(2) In addition to the many hardships they had to endure, they also risked the blacklist and imprisonment for their involvement in the movement. Chartist meetings had been banned by proclamation of the government in 1839 and many Chartists had been arrested. In May 1840, more than 200 Chartists were in prison, eighteen had been transported, eleven of them for life. Six months later, the number of prisoners being held had risen to 480.(3)

In October 1840, Chester Castle held fifteen Chartist prisoners, ‘twelve of them for collecting arms’.(4) Many of these were from Ashton-under-Lyne and Stockport. We know something about the prisoners and what their conditions were like. This is because in 1841 the Home Office appointed prison inspectors to investigate the treatment of Chartist prisoners after receiving complaints from the public. The document ‘Confidential reports made by the Inspector of Prisons upon the cases of political offenders in custody on 1st July 1841’, gives us a revealing insight into prison conditions, the backgrounds of the prisoners, their grievances and the attitudes of the authorities towards them.(5)

Although described as ‘political offenders’, while in gaol the prisoners were treated as criminals. A common complaint among the prisoners in Chester Castle concerned the food. Many complained of ‘want of meat’ and their diet largely consisted of bread, gruel and potatoes. They complained of indigestion but could purchase food for themselves if they had the money. Some were receiving money from the ‘victim fund’ (Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor had founded a national defence fund for arrested Chartists in June 1839) or from subscriptions or from relatives. Many complained about being locked up too early – 7.00 pm – and they also complained that they were only allowed to read The Times and no other newspaper. Prisoners were allowed visits from relatives, sometimes unsupervised, and correspondence could be confiscated and inspected.

The Reverend Joseph Rayner Stephens, who was a Chartist prisoner, complained about the power of visiting magistrates who could reduce the men’s diet, enforce prison dress and impose solitary confinement. They resented what few privileges the prisoners enjoyed and did their best to restrict them. The prisoners were also allowed to purchase books and could exercise in a yard.

Timothy Higgins, aged 35, from Portland Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, was one of the Chartist prisoners held in Chester Castle. He was a cotton spinner and was married with four children. He had been convicted of conspiracy at the Autumn Assizes at Chester in 1839 and had been imprisoned for 18 calendar months.

According to a report in the Manchester Guardian on 3rd July 1839, the police had searched the home of Timothy Higgins and found two long narrow chests. Inside the chests they found 17 muskets with bayonets, four doubled barrelled guns, a rifle, one large horse pistol, four common-sized pistols, and a quantity of bullets and cases. When he’d been asked why he had the weapons, Higgins replied that he had them from the manufacturer, George Thompson, for the purpose of sale. At the courthouse the following day, Higgins had been given bail and released after his solicitor Richard Corbett submitted to the Magistrates that there had been no grounds stated which would justify the constables entering the prisoner’s house and seizing the arms.

In prison, Higgins was interviewed by Inspector WJ Williams. He said that he’d received about £6 by way of subscription and that his wife had received £2 from the victim fund. He said he’d used the money to buy books and food. The report says that he could read and write well and had been writing poetry while in prison and reading ‘Scott’s novels and common historical works’ and improving his arithmetic. He complained of having no meat and of being locked up at 7.00 pm. He also said that his wife was ‘about to be thrown upon the Parish’.

Although the pretext given for these prison interviews was to make inquiries about the prisoners’ conditions, it is clear from the reports that the inspectors were assessing each prisoner to make judgements about them and their political views in order to report back to the Home Office.

Inspector Williams writes: “Higgins avows himself a republican and is a member of the Workingmen’s Association. Is a man of considerable intelligence, not devoid of feelings. He shed tears when I spoke to him of his family.” Williams quotes Higgins as saying:

“‘I was brought up a cotton spinner – it was my agreeable calling when I first followed it, but they have got into the habit of applying self-acting machinery and man is of no use. I know some of the most intelligent in society who cannot get bread. They take a man now for his muscular appearance not for his talent – machines have become so simple that attending them is commonplace labour.’ This man was appointed an agent of Thompson’s for the sale of arms; a very trifling encouragement would induce him to emigrate to the U.S….”

George Thompson, a Birmingham gunsmith, had been supplying arms to Chartists in Ashton, Manchester and Stockport. He had also been convicted of conspiracy and given 18 months imprisonment in Chester Castle. The report says: “reads and writes well… is of a petulant temper and of ordinary ability.” He was allowed beer and wine by direction of the surgeon – he suffered from chronic rheumatism – and was allowed to exercise outside the yards. In his observations Williams says:

“This individual was called upon by…M’Douall whom he supplied with arms and then established agencies for the sale of them… the agents all being notorious Chartists. I do not believe it was anything more with him than a money making transaction but one of a mischievous character.”

The Reverend Joseph Rayner Stephens, who had been appointed to the Ashton-under-Lyne circuit in 1832, was aged 34 when he was convicted at the Assizes in Chester in 1839. He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for the offence of “using seditious language at a public tumultuous assembly.” He was allowed to maintain himself and could use a private room to study and to eat. He told Inspector Williams:

“I have been insulted by one set of Chartists here, who sided with M’Douall, although I have in frequent instances given them money and food.”

In his observations, Williams remarked that Stephens was:

“an object of suspicion to M’Douall and his followers who call him traitor and are indignant at his pocketing the whole of the money raised by subscription for his defence by counsel, when he defended himself and employed none.”

Peter Murray M’Douall was aged 26 at the time of his imprisonment in Chester Castle. A physical force Chartist, he was a surgeon who had a practice in Ramsbottom, near Bury. In July 1839 he had been sentenced at the Assizes in Chester to 12 months imprisonment for sedition and attending an illegal meeting in Hyde in April 1839. Though he had been released from prison in August 1840, there was a great deal of enmity between the Chartist prisoners who were split into two factions – those who followed Stephens and those who followed M’Douall. A number of Chartists had asked that they be kept apart from Stephens who they regarded as an apostate. There had been violence in the prison when one prisoner had sustained a broken jaw.

In a movement that nurtured personality cults and where speakers competed for the hero-worship of their audiences, it was inevitable that there would be fragmentation and rivalries. The rupture between Ashton Chartists had occurred in June 1839, when M’Douall had publicly accused Stephens of committing an indecent assault on the unmarried sister of James Bronterre O’Brien, the Chartist leader.(6) Though this allegation was never proven it did damage Stephens’ reputation.

Stephens’s hatred for M’Douall ‘had no bounds’.(7) While in prison, he had sought to expose M’Douall’s immorality by alleging that he had tried to seduce the turnkey’s daughter: M’Douall later married her. At his trial, Stephens had repudiated Chartism declaring his detestation of the doctrine. Though Stephens never was a Chartist and said so on numerous occasions, many Chartists believed him to be so and he was accused of apostasy. He had also defended himself rather than employ counsel. Many Chartists who had contributed to his defence fund felt betrayed. There were also requests for the money to be given back so it could be used for the defence of other Chartists awaiting trial.

One of the prisoners who asked to be kept separated from Stephens, was Isaac Johnson, a blacksmith from Stockport. He was aged 36 and was married with two children. He told Inspector Williams that three of his children had died while he’d been in prison. He had been sentenced to 1 year’s imprisonment for ‘uttering seditious words’. In his observations, Williams remarks that Johnson was a shrewd man but uneducated:

“Which he explains was owing to his being turned out of school after gaining six prizes in consequence of his Father obliging him to go to school in a white hat with a crape and green riband at Peterloo time, for which he was expelled and never went anywhere afterwards. He is devoted to M’Douall with whom he appears ready to go to all lengths.”

Another prisoner who was much attached to M’Douall was James Duke, aged 36, who was married with six children. A cotton spinner by profession, he was the landlord of the Bush Inn, Stamford Street, Ashton-under-Lyne. The pub was a well known meeting place for Chartists and it was here that Stephens was arrested by the Bow Street Runner, Henry Goddard. James Duke had been sentenced to 1 year’s imprisonment for ‘conspiracy to excite the people to arms’. He was also an agent for the arms dealer George Thompson and both he and M’Douall had visited Birmingham to buy muskets and bayonets.(8)

Some of the Chartist prisoners did enjoy greater privileges in gaol due to their social class. Inspector Williams believed that Stephens was unpopular with some of the Chartists prisoners because he had ‘greater privileges’. In the county gaol at York, Inspector Williams interviewed the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor, a barrister/journalist who had been given 18 months for libel. He says: “his behaviour was most courteous and gentlemanlike’ and then adds:

“Mr O’Connor is placed in a light room with boarded floor and a fire place near to the infirmary…the Magistrates have supplied an additional officer to wait upon him and attend almost exclusively to his wants. This man sleeps within call and takes Mr. O’Connor’s orders respecting his meals etc and the hours which he selects for exercise in the yard. Mr. O’Connor maintains himself and there is no restriction upon his food or as to the introduction of wine, of which since his imprisonment he has had from four to five dozen. His room is furnished at his own expense…there is no restriction upon his candles, fire, or the hour of going to bed.”

Although O’Connor complained about the presence of a third person when receiving visits and the restrictions on his letters, he told Williams that he was generally satisfied with his treatment. He was eventually released after serving 10 months.

Despite the fact that the Chartist movement degenerated into sects and factions after 1839, it nevertheless overcame this and also survived attempts by the government to suppress it. By 1842, it had become more efficient as an organization and it increased its membership. However, as economic conditions improved, leading to higher wages, working-class support for the movement began to decline. In the mid 1840s some Chartists following their leader O’Connor when he set up the Chartist Land Scheme, where workingmen contributed small sums to purchase allotments of land. The scheme was an economic disaster. After 1848 support for the movement declined rapidly and many Chartists later became Liberals. The six points only began to be adopted after the Chartist movement had ceased to exist and when the political elite were ready to adopt it. With the exception of annual Parliaments, every political demand of the Charter was later to be granted.

The failure of the movement to achieve its immediate aims can be attributed to a number of reasons. Although a working-class movement, trade unions generally remained aloof from Chartism and it tended to appeal to those workers who saw themselves as victims of industrialization rather than its beneficiaries. The Chartists themselves were often at variance with one another and could seldom agree on social policy. The movement also lacked political support in the Commons and failed to form alliances with the middle-classes. It also lacked an effective leadership which in the opinion of the Webbs, ‘brought it to nought’.(9)

Sources:

1. Work, Class & Politics in Ashton-under-Lyne 1830-1860. R.G.Hall PhD Thesis 1991. P. 226
2. Ibid – P137
3. Some Working-Class Movements Of The Nineteenth Century. R.F. Wearmouth. P.211
4. Purge This Realm. A Life of Joseph Rayner Stephens. M.S. Edwards. P.91
5. Confidential reports made by the Inspector of Prisons upon the cases of political offenders in custody on 1st July 1841. Tameside Studies Library.
6. Purge This Realm. P.63/64
7. Ibid – P.93
8. Some Working-Class Movements Of The Nineteenth Century. P107
9. A History of Trade Unionism – Webb.

Article by Derek Pattison

The Clarion Movement

The Clarion newspaper was the most influential Socialist newspaper ever published in Britain, creating thousands of Socialists and inspiring a whole social movement. The movement was divided by the First World War and never recovered.

The first issue of The Clarion was published on 12 December 1891. The offices were in City Buildings, Corporation Street, Manchester, although the paper moved to Fleet Street in 1895. (The building still stands unoccupied and derelict opposite the Co-operative Bank). The Clarion was founded by Robert Blatchford.

Blatchford was born in Maidstone in 1851. He came from a theatrical family, his father John being a comedian and his mother Georgina an actress. He had little schooling and was largely self-educated, spending his time reading during regular bouts of childhood illness. The family eventually settled in Halifax where Robert was apprenticed as a brushmaker. He did not go into the trade, leaving the town in 1871 and joining the army where he rose to the rank of Sergeant Major.

After leaving the army he got a job as a storeman with the Weaver Navigation Company in Northwich and began writing short stories in his spare time. This led to him writing a column for a newspaper in Leeds and then into full-time journalism, first in London and then in Manchester where he worked for Edward Hulton, writing for the Sunday Chronicle under the pen-name Nunquam (Nunquam Dormio – I do not sleep.) His salary was now an astonishing £1,000 a year.

Increasingly he wrote about slum conditions in Manchester and was taken around some of the worst cellars in Hulme and Ancoats by a local Socialist, Joe Waddington. Blatchford finally became a Socialist after reading What is Socialism, written by Henry Hyndman and William Morris. Blatchford was not a theoretician but came to Socialism because he saw it as a practical solution to the poverty and misery he had personally witnessed. He later wrote:

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

Hulton would not let him write about Socialism in the Morning Chronicle so Blatchford walked out of his job and set up The Clarion, along with his brother Montague, Alex Thompson, Edward Fay and Robert Suthers. It was a huge gamble but fortunately for them many of Blatchford’s readers followed him to the new venture and The Clarion soon became a welcome weekly visitor to thousands of households and attracted a fierce loyalty from its readers. The Clarion was never a dry-as-dust theoretical journal, but a jovial mix of news, comment, short stories, songs and poetry.

Blatchford and The Clarion made Socialists. As George R Taylor put it in his book Leaders Of Socialism, Past and Present, published in 1910,

“…..Robert Blatchford…..can manufacture Socialist more quickly then anyone else. Tipton Limited sells more tea than any other firm, Lever sells more soap; one factory makes more boots; another most chairs. Mr Blatchford and The Clarion make more Socialists than any rival establishment.”

Blatchford’s pamphlet Merrie England: a Series of Letters on the Labour Problem, based on articles originally published in The Clarion, appeared in 1893, priced at a shilling. The first run of 25,000 sold out and it was then reprinted, the price lowered at penny and sold by the hundreds of thousands. It was addressed to “John Smith of Oldham, a hard-headed workman fond of facts” and set out practical reasons why Socialism was necessary, ending by presenting readers with a stark choice:

“This question of Socialism is the most important and imperative question of the age. It will divide, is now dividing, society into two camps. In which camp will you elect to stand? On the one side there are individualism and competition –leading to a “great trade” and great miseries. On the other side is justice, without which can come no good, from which can come no evil. On the one hand are ranged all the sages, all the saints, all the martyrs, all the noble manhood and pure womanhood of the world; on the other hand are the tyrant, the robber, the manslayer, the libertine, the usurer, the slave-driver, the drunkard, and the sweater. Choose your party, then, my friend, and let us get to the fighting.”

The Clarion supported the three year strike in the slate mines at Bethesda in Wales by raising money for the strikers. Its readers now set up a social network of societies, including the Clarion Cycling Club (which is still going), Vocal Unions, Clarion Fellowship, Clarion Handicraft Clubs, Clarion Scouts, Rambling Clubs and Cinderella Clubs (which arranged events for children). In 1908 the Clarion Café was opened at 50a Market Street; this lasted until the 1930s.

The Clarion Cycling Club began one evening in February 1894 when Tom Groom and five others men held a meeting in the Labour Church in Birmingham and decided to set up a Socialist Cycling Club. Their first tour was at the Easter weekend and was later written up for The Clarion, in which Tom Groom described how they left Wolverhampton on a damp morning and cycled around Worcestershire, enjoying the pleasure of the countryside – and its pubs!

“Suddenly the first man rang his bell, and discounted, the others following suit. The first man spake not, but pointed with trembling delight to where they sold the Clarion…..We all marched in, in order, purchased our Clarions and then, as solemnly walked out, mounted our machines, and then proceeded on our way as men who had had glimpses of higher things.”

Tom concluded his report, “We had spent as grand a holiday as possible. Ah-h! It was glorious! Say no man lives until he has been on tour with the Clarion CC. Till then he but exists.”

His report inspired others to set up their own Clarion Cycling Clubs and in 1895 over one hundred cyclists met up at Easter in Ashbourne for the first annual meet, a tradition that still continues. There were rides out, songs and drinking in the George & Dragon. As the cycling clubs grew Clarion clubhouses were set up to allow the cyclists to get away for a cheap weekend in the country. The first was a caravan set up over the summer of 1895 at Tabley Brook, near Knutsford, by two Manchester CCC members Charlie Reekie and J S Sutcliffe. A permanent Clubhouse in an old house was opened in June 1897 at Bucklow Hill, leased from a farmer for 5 years. This was followed an old farmhouse in Handforth which ran from 1903 to 1936. Collin Coates later wrote:

“To be able to wheel out on a Saturday or Sunday after the week’s toil and moil in the dingy office, the stuffy warehouse, the reeking slum, the enervating mill, workshop or mine – to one’s own house…..which was the rendezvous of kindred soul bubbling over with the spirit of the newly–found fellowship, was indeed taste of the joys to be had in the ‘days-a-coming’.”

Other Clubhouses were set up in Wharfedale, Halewood, the Ribble Valley, the Midlands and Essex. One Clarion House survives near Nelson-on-Colne, opened in 1912 by Nelson ILP. It welcomes visitors, walkers and cyclists still.

The Clarion had a women’s column almost from the start, written firstly by Eleanor Keeling and then from October 1895 by Julia Dawson. In February 1896 Julia told her readers that she wanted to organise a Clarion Van tour over the summer. A horse-drawn van had already been offered and would be sent out on the road with two or three women on board, stopping in towns and villages to hold meetings and distribute Socialist literature. She appealed for women to come forward as speakers and for donations to fund the venture. These appeals were successful and in June the Van set off from Liverpool. The speakers on the first tour included Caroline Martyn, Ada Nield and Sarah Reddish. The Van toured Cheshire and Staffordshire and then went north, finishing up on Tyneside after fifteen weeks’ hard campaigning. On the way the women had addressed thousands of people. It was judged a great success and repeated in following years. By 1907 the number of Vans had risen to six.

The Clarion movement was fractured in 1914 when Robert Blatchford supported the war. He had already incensed many of readers in 1899 when he supported the Boer war. He had also supported calls for a stronger navy and army and had written articles in the Daily Mail about the “German Menace.” Now with war a reality he turned on his former comrades, some of whom were imprisoned for their conscientious objection to the slaughter.

Collin Coates later reflected that:

“We could not equate Socialism, as we had understood it, with the organised killing of others of our own class. This attitude aroused Blatchford to a pitch of patriotic fervour which caused him to abuse and vilify such of us as had failed to drop our Socialism for a narrow nationalism.”

The paper struggled on after the war but it was never the same. The Labour Party was now a growing force electorally, prepared to enter government on a pragmatic basis, whilst on its left the newly formed Communist party was attracting young idealists. The paper became monthly in 1927 and finally disappeared in 1934, its heyday long past. Blatchford himself died in 1943 and now slept.

Article by Michael Herbert.

Resources and further reading

Clarion House
Clarion Cycling Club

Clarion archives, pamphlets and books, Working Class Movement Library

Roger Brown and Stan Iveson, Clarion House, a monument to a Movement

Chris Clegg, “Nelson ILP Clarion House: a remarkable survivor”, North West Labour History Journal, No 30

Michael Nally, “The Dear Old Perisher: the Clarion Newspaper 1891-1935”, North West Labour History Journal, No 17

Richard Povall, “Pedal Power” text of his play about the National Clarion Cycling Club), North West Labour History Journal, No 29

Denis Pye , “Fellowship Is Life: the Bolton Clarion Cycling Club and the Clarion Movement 1896-1914”, North West Labour History Journal, No 10

Denis Pye, “Charlie Reekie’s Dream, the story of the Manchester Clarion Clubhouses 1897-1951”, North West Labour History Journal, No 17

Denis Pye, Socialism, Fellowship and Food, the Manchester Clarion Café 1908-1936, North West Labour History Journal, No 21

Denis Pye, Fellowship is Life: the story of the Clarion Cycling Club (1995) (still available from the author, 34 Temple Road, Halliwell, Bolton BL1 3LT. £4.95 p&p. Cheques payable to Clarion Publishing)

Nikki Salmon, “Bold Memories of ’84. Bolton Clarion’s ride round the Lancashire Pits, December 8th 1984”, North West Labour History Journal, No 11

Daniel Boyle and Daniel McCabe – Irish local politicians in Manchester

Irish nationalism in the nineteenth century had two wings, the Republican tradition represented by the Fenian movement which sought complete independence for Ireland and a Republic, and the Home Rule movement which sought a limited autonomy for Ireland within the United Kingdom. With the defeat of the Fenians by the end of the 1860s, the Irish Nationalist Party came to the fore in the last quarter of the nineteenth century under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell. Manchester was a particularly strong centre for the Irish Nationalist Party, but its Irish politicians were also important social reformers in the city itself.

Daniel Boyle and Daniel McCabe were Manchester’s most prominent Irish Nationalist politicians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both sitting on the City Council as Liberals and representing adjacent wards with large Irish populations.

Daniel McCabe was born in Stockport but spent nearly the whole of his life in Manchester, receiving his education at the Christian Brothers school in Livesey Street and later studying at evening classes in the Mechanics Institution. According to his contemporaries McCabe spoke with an Irish accent, even in middle age, reflecting the close-knit nature of the Irish community in this period. He was a staunch Roman Catholic throughout his life and from a young age was involved with the work of the St Patrick’s parish, an area he lived in himself despite its poverty. He served as Vice President of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, as Superintendent and Registrar at the St Patrick’s Sunday School – possibly the largest Catholic Sunday School in the country – and somehow found time to serve on the committees of a host of other Catholic organisations.

McCabe was also active politically in both the Irish National League, where he was president of the Michael Davitt branch, and in the Liberal party, where he was vice-president of the North Manchester Liberal Association. This dual membership and activity reflected the prevailing political wisdom that only the Liberal party would ever deliver Home Rule for the Irish people. McCabe’s political activity culminated in his election to the City Council in 1889 for the St Michael’s ward, an area with a large Irish population and which part of the parish of St Patrick’s. He served on the Market, Cleansing and Watch committees and in 1892 became a Justice of the Peace, only the second Roman Catholic to be so appointed. He was regarded as a model of what a Catholic public man should be – hard-working, respectable and devoted to both his religion and his public duties.

In November 1913 Daniel became Manchester’s first Catholic Lord Mayor. In his speech to the Council he drew attention to a number of urgent issues facing the city, in particular the need for clean air and the growing housing shortage, which he believed the council must act to solve: “If private enterprise fails to meet the growing demand for houses the Corporation must not stand idly by. The people must be housed and properly housed. Our future as a nation depends upon the health, intelligence and skill of the workers and health cannot be had in full measure without proper house accommodation”. The new Lord Mayor being unmarried, his sister Mrs O’Neill served as Lady Mayoress. The inauguration of the Lord Mayor was traditionally marked with a service at the Cathedral but Daniel was unable to attend, because in those days Catholics were still forbidden to enter Protestant churches. There were some attempts to stir up controversy in the press over this but public opinion was with Daniel in acting in accordance with his beliefs. A service of thanksgiving was held at Salford Cathedral to which his colleagues on the council were invited.

Daniel Boyle was born in January 1859 near Lough Melvin in County Fermanagh, the son of a farmer. In 1877 he left his home to come to Manchester where he found employment with the Midland Railway Company, which he stayed with until 1889. He became active in the Irish National League and was Secretary of the branch in the East Manchester constituency. His talents were soon noticed and, after assisting in the organisation of the INL convention in Manchester, he was asked by TP O’Connor to accept the position as representative of the Irish party in Lancashire and Cheshire. He was also very active in the Irish National Foresters – a sick and burial friendly society – travelling in his spare time at weekends to establish branches in the North and Midlands and acting as head of the society on several occasions as well as secretary of the Manchester district. Boyle also found time to act as the Manchester correspondent of the Freemans’ Journal and as vice-president of the Catholic Registration Society.

In 1894 Boyle was elected to the City Council for New Cross ward – adjoining St Michael’s, in present-day Ancoats – which was the largest ward in the city and contained many Irish voters. Soon after his election he lobbied and led delegations against a proposal to build huge lodging-houses and persuaded the Council to build cottage dwellings instead. He was also involved in the re-organisation of the Manchester City Police which had become widely corrupt, a work of some years. In May 1897 the local monthly magazine Manchester Faces and Places described him thus:

“It is as much by character as by speech that Mr Boyle has so soon secured the respect and ear of the assembly. Sound sense, good humour and the wit which is the dower of the Irish race – these are the qualities which tell powerfully for the cause for the cause he may be advocating. On the platform Mr Boyle….. is an orator. His voice is sonorous and musical….and when particularly he speaks on politics he gives the ring and earnestness and even of passion. Just the touch of the accent of his country aids rather than mars the effect of his speech.”

Perhaps Boyle’s most lasting contribution to Manchester was taking on the complex task of organising the replacement of the Corporation’s horse-drawn trams by a modern electric system, which was inaugurated in 1901. Speaking at the banquet to celebrate the opening, he said that the object was to provide a good service with the best possible conditions, and, not least, to give the ratepayers a decent return on their capital. Soon the service was responsible for 140 miles of track with 450 tramcars travelling 30,000 miles a day and carrying 130 million passengers.” Mancunian wits dubbed it “Dan Boyle’s light railway”. Boyle also had a strong interest in the welfare of the workers on the tram system and revolutionised the conditions of service, reducing the hours from 70 to 54, increasing pay and giving a week’s paid holiday while still making enough money on the trams to contribute a large sum in relief of rates. There were some accusations by political opponents that you had to be Irish to get a job on the trams, accusations angrily rejected at a public election meeting in November 1906. That same year he was the only municipal candidate endorsed by the local Trades Union Council.

Both Boyle and McCabe were on the progressive wing of the Liberal party, supporting the municipalisation of essential services and decent working conditions for council employees. Indeed on many issues they had more in common with the emerging Independent Labour Party than many members of their own party. In a speech at Shamrock Hall, Ancoats in July 1895 McCabe told his audience that Nationalists wanted as speedily as possible to bring about the freedom of Ireland and they believed that they could best do this by continuation of their alliance with the Liberals. He recognised, however, that were many at the meeting who were favourable to the labour movement.

He above all others had not one word to say against the Labour party and he believed that, above all other men, the Irishmen of this country had nothing to say against any party that went for the improvement of the condition of the labouring classes. The Irishmen in this country had to earn their bread from the sweat of their brows, and whatever was good for the working people and for the bettering of their condition would be to the advantage of the Irish masses in England. But he for one believed that the Irish alliance with the Liberal party would more certainly bring about the improvement in the condition of labour than by following the Labour party at the present moment.

On 9th September 1910 the Manchester & Salford District of the United Irish League of Great Britain organised a send off for Dan Boyle, which took place in the Marble Hall, Albion Hotel, Manchester and was reported in the Manchester Guardian. Boyle was leaving for the United States on what was described in the programme for the evening as a “mission to the Irish Race of America” in the company of fellow MPs John Redmond, TP O’Connor and Joe Devlin. Boyle was to tour the northern states. The evening was chaired by Daniel McCabe and the programme consisted of familiar songs – “Ireland A Nation”, “Men of the West”, “Paddies Evermore” and “the Boys of Wexford” interspersed by toasts, one of which was made by John Dulanty (later the Irish High Commissioner in London), who described Boyle as “the spearhead of the shaft of the Irish forces in Irish forces in this vicinity”. Replying to the toast Dan Boyle said that he looked upon his selection as one of the mission to the United States as a compliment to the Irishmen of Great Britain, who had shown unswerving fidelity to the Irish cause through trying times:

“I believe that this is a period for the rank and file of the party to stand solidly and united behind their leaders, to do the thinking and working out of the plan of campaign. I believe at the present time we have leaders – I do not say merely a leader – who deserve, command, aye and receive a full measure of the confidence of the Irish people, whether in Ireland, in England or America. As a result of the statesmanship and diplomacy that these leaders have shown I believe our cause is nearer accomplishment than it ever was, and as Mr. Redmond recently said at Kilkenny, even the stars in the courses are working for Home Rule.”

At 10pm the assembled guests were asked by the programme to proceed to Exchange Station “and there a hearty ‘send-off’ will be given to the Envoy on his mission to our kinsmen overseas”. Dinner eaten and toasts drunk, this was duly done, although Boyle and his wife actually set off to Ireland to visit his constituency in Mayo North before joining his companions for the voyage to the United States, where they attended the conference of the National Convention of the United Irish League. The visit was denounced by Sinn Fein. Boyle had been elected as an MP earlier that year and remained one until the Sinn Fein landslide of 1918 when he was defeated by the Sinn Fein candidate Dr Crawley who gained 7,429 votes to Boyle’s 1,761.He died in 1925.

Daniel McCabe was knighted in due course and appointed by the King as Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire. It was in that official capacity that on 29th December 1918 he welcomed Woodrow Wilson to Lancashire when the President of the United States arrived at London Road station at five in the evening on the occasion of his visit to Manchester. McCabe died the following year and was buried in Moston cemetery where his tomb can be seen directly opposite the main entrance. His photograph hangs in Committee Room Four of the Town Hall and he is also remembered in the same building by a bronze relief in the sculpture hall.

Article by Michael Herbert.

Leonard Tilsley – Stalybridge’s noted socialist councillor and World War One Mutineer and Gertie Tilsley – feminist and community activist

In this article, Leonard and Gertie Tilsley are recollected by their grand-daughter Lesley Wade, interviewed by Aidan Jolly:

Leonard & Gertrude Tilsley, 1921


“My name is Lesley Wade, I’m a Lecturer in the School of Nursing at Manchester University. My grandparents were Mr and Mrs Tilsley: they lived at 99 Ridge Hill Lane and had lived there since approximately 1923. They lived with my granddad’s father Ellis Tilsley and Ellis and Leonard were notable Aldermen of Stalybridge and ultimately my grandfather became Mayor of Stalybridge in 1956. I spent many evenings and many holidays with these two charming people and of course in doing so they did reflect about the house they lived in, the nice new Hague estate and the people they’d met and the sort of conditions of Ridge Hill and they looked at it with optimism.

He was a noted Socialist Councillor and that was part of his philosophy as a very young man. My grandmother was a Manx woman, she came from quite a big farm had a very tragic life because her mother died when she was 13: she brought up 5 children. Leonard went to Coneyman’s Camp on the island, on holiday, and they were introduced by her cousin as they walked along the prom in Douglas. He went to the First World War and they wrote beautiful letters to each other for at least 6 or 7 years, and the first thing he did when he came out away from Cyprus was to get a new pair of clothes, go with Ellis Tilsley’s father and go and marry Gertie Kennaugh.

My grandparents were very much average working class people who were Socialists and they insisted about education, education, education: so that my grandmother had insisted, unusually for that time, that her daughter would also get, if she wished, to go to the grammar school. If she was able, they would make sure she went, so they sacrificed a great deal for both of them. There was nothing in the house of real value except books, I remember that even in 1962, 63, but everything was valued regarding education so of course my mother had done very well at what was called the Nursing School then, and she’d said she was determined she wasn’t going to give up her profession. She became the Assistant Director of Nurse Education at Ashton-under-Lyne Hospital.

I remember I was even then able to distinguish that my parents’ house in Denton was quite a modern house with all relatively modern amenities but my grandparents’ house had stayed as though the Second World War had just not even finished. There was little money in the house because my grandfather was a committed Socialist, he was a grocer and he had quite a few shops in Stalybridge. Castle Hall was one of his first shops and ultimately he had the grocers shop in Hanover Street and then in Melbourne Street as well, so he was well known in Stalybridge and he was the manager of the Co-op in that part of Stalybridge. Everybody in Stalybridge knew them that was quite amazing. Just one reflection is that if we had to go in to town, which we did every Thursday and Friday, you had to dress up. I used to polish my granddad’s boots and I loved it because I loved them but Rosie and I (that’s my sister) used to raise our eyebrows because they wouldn’t have got outside the door without people coming to talk to us and ask Leonard about problems, what could we do, could we help them and it was like a procession into Stalybridge. He’d be very nice and directing people, and he’d retired by then, but we’d always end up in the Stalybridge Reporter office. I don’t know why, we always did that and with one of the chief reporters and I think he’d sometimes ask Leonard what he thought about different things. It was great for me because I’d be sitting there as a young girl about 6 or 7 or 8 but it was quite a learning experience I suppose.

Leonard was quite left wing and had said after the First World War he had contemplated going into the Communist Party and then he thought he’d go into the Salvation Army, he was very annoyed and disturbed by things he’d seen. He wasn’t in France he was in Palestine and Basra but he was very annoyed at the class differences. I’ve just read his war record and amusingly it says something like ‘memory very intelligent, writing very intelligent’ and at the bottom it says ‘very intelligent for a working class man’. It was signed by this Lieutenant; whoever was his Officer – he said he actually got on very well with his Officer. The reason was because the troops that were sent to Palestine obviously thought, at the Armistice, that they were going to go home in 1918. As they got on the boat, the boat went left not right. Leonard, who was probably a spokesperson politely asked his Officer excuse me sir why we’ve turned the wrong way, he said ‘because you my boy are going to Cyprus’. He said ‘the new treaty has changed and we’re occupying Cyprus for 2 years’. They got to Cyprus and there’s two things about Cyprus, Grandfather said it was absolutely beautiful and for a boy from Stalybridge in the north of England to be taken to a Greek island like that, if you had some imagination, it was great. But after 2 years they got a bit annoyed and one day they rebelled and they threw their arms down: I only realised that you could do this after I watched ‘The Monocled Mutineer’. They went out on parade and they just put their arms down and said ‘we’re not continuing’. Leonard thought ‘God we’ve really done it now’, I think there were 3 men, Leonard was one of them, and the Officer in charge took them into the office and he listened to them, and he said ‘why did you do that’. Leonard said ‘well we’ve been here 2 years we want to go home and we want to marry our sweethearts’ and the Officer said ‘indeed and so do I so we’ll say nothing of this matter’. So he was lucky.

If you asked me was my grandmother Socialist, I’d say no she was Liberal, but I also suspect that my grandmother was very keenly an early feminist. She was a Manx woman and as you know the Isle of Man had given the vote to females in 1867. She was an educated woman: my grandmother was the real educator, tremendous reader, very quiet lady and she didn’t socialise outside the house except as the Mayoress. She really kept herself to herself, but she used to make some key points to me. ‘Never forget, never forget Churchill wouldn’t give us the vote, he promised he’d give us the vote and he didn’t and it was only until 1928 that people of England could vote’ she says and that was the most shocking thing when she came to Lancashire, was the fact that she felt really annoyed that she couldn’t vote.

They were very much within a working class culture: the free libraries, Stalybridge Library, was the big boon to them – they used to use the library an awful lot. They were stalwarts of the community: to some extent it was a hard act to follow, and I suppose as my mother said, particularly Gertie was quite Victorian in a way but now reflecting on it I’d say Victorian in a good sense. Of course she was very strict but in the sense that there was an expectation of what you did and you just did not misbehave in any way your voice was never raised, there was never any swearing ever in the house and it was a very genteel atmosphere to be brought up in.

I felt I was growing up in a household where you could ask questions. Every evening in 99 in the parlour, Leonard would have these grey envelopes and they were always from Stalybridge Town Hall and Chester, because he used to go to Chester a lot (that was the centre of administration for Stalybridge) and he’d be working till 11 at night on the papers, never paid for anything but worked till eleven at night, until he was about 70.

My nan said that the new houses on Ridgehill were much better than the terraced houses lower down in Stalybridge and the Brushes estate. They were very optimistic about what socialism could do, but I’m not too sure that at the end of his life granddad was actually as optimistic, because he once sat down with me, bought me a book on the TUC, and said ‘we’ve gone all wrong Lesley, all gone wrong’.

I think both my grandparents and my parents maybe, but particularly my grandparents, they actually lived for the future and they were optimists. The old days were not halcyon days, they were difficult days for people to operate as in a humane way. My granddad died in the early 70’s, Nan lived till she was 94, very articulate still, and she said ‘my God’, when I was doing my A-Levels, she came and collected me, and we walked down into Stalybridge, she said ‘this town has been ripped apart, it used to be so wonderful, the Library, the shops were nice, the streets were lovely’, she said ‘there’s nothing, nothing here’, and that was again the late 70s, early 70s, and that was one thing, the actual decay, the loss of civic pride, very very important to them.”

Aidan Jolly adds:

This story inspired me to write this song, which focusses on Leonard’s WW1 experiences. It’s sung to an adapted version of a Cheshire tune called ‘The Rambling Royal’. This tune also tells the story of a man who deserts (several times) rather than fight other people’s wars – notably, he refuses to go and fight in Ireland. Its roots are in an 18th Century Ballad called ‘The Bold Belfast Shoemaker’. It’s unusual in that it takes the side of a deserter rather than a recruited man, and also in that the soldier’s girlfriend encourages him to desert and shelters him, rather than encouraging him to join up. I’m grateful to my friend Roy Clinging (www.royclinging.com) for the use of his research.

The allusion to Tipperary is there because the song ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’, which became a soldiers’ song of WW1, was written by Stalybridge Music Hall Artist Jack Judge in 1912.

Leonard Tilsley
My name is Leonard Tilsley
I’ve a shop in Melbourne Street
My sweetheart’s Gertie Kennaugh
Who in Douglas I did meet
Now I’m called to do my duty
Not for me the Wipers mud
I’m to stand upon the Holy Land
And baptise it with my blood

We fought the Turk in Basra
Advanced the British Line
Left Mr Lawrence and the League
To settle Palestine
I wrote a letter to my sweetheart
Said “We’re on a steamer back”
But Aphrodite’s Isle was calling us
The ship began to tack

Chorus:
And it’s a way to Tipperary
And it’s even further home
And a man gets tired of putting up
When he’s weary to the bone
So I asked too many questions
And refused to let things stand
And they marked my card as
“Intelligent, for a working class man”

So I put it to my officer
As on deck he took the air
And he told me of a change of course
In Government affairs
“My boy, we’re bound for Cyprus
Its beauties to behold
It’s our duty to the Empire
To do as we are told”

Well 1919 came and went
While Russia it turned red
And by Christmas 1920
I was longing to be wed
We came out one day on parade
And said “we can’t go on”
The Armistice is two years old
We laid our rifles down

Repeat first Chorus

Well they could have called it mutiny
And we’d have all been shot
But the C.O. he was tired too
And let the matter drop
I came back home to Stalybridge
Picked up where I’d left off
Married my sweet Douglas lass
In a suit of Sunday Cloth

Chorus:
And it’s a way to Tipperary
And I was seven years from home
And the land that’s fit for heroes
Is yet distant and unknown
So we’ve kept on asking questions
We’ve refused to let things stand
I’ve kept the card they marked for me
To remind me who I am

So come on all you working folk
When slaughter is your school
When next they ask for cannon food
Don’t heed the butcher’s call
You serve your fellow workers best
With ploughshares not with swords
We’ll bring down the ruling class
Not with rifles but with words