Huddersfield may boast the last of the Owenite Halls of Science. Now tucked away in a back street, this building, then surrounded by fields outside the town, was for a few years from 1839 to 1844 the centre of Socialist and other radical activity. Due to Huddersfield’s influence in both the Socialist and Chartist movements at this time it can be said to be of national significance. Since then it has had a varied career as chapel and warehouse.
A few hundred yards to the north of Huddersfield town centre, on a rising narrow lane hemmed in by the railway and the ring road, overshadowed by warehouses and almost hidden by rows of terraces, stands a chapel-like building. Despite the coating of creamy grey paint covering the facade and a crude attempt to obliterate the letters, the inscription in large Roman capitals can still be made out on the rectangular tablet set in the triangular pediment – HALL OF SCIENCE.
The situation of the building symbolises the fate of the philosophy which led to its construction. Overwhelmed and obscured by later nineteenth century Socialist thought, bypassed by the rigid roads of twentieth century ‘marxist’ orthodoxy, Owenite Socialism represents an almost forgotten treasure house of ideas in the history of the working class movement.
For opponents it is too dangerous to accept that modern Socialism grew up in Britain with little outside influence and was born out of the experience of working people in resisting the rise of industrial capitalism. The idealism of the Owenite Socialists is a reproach to those who claim to be Socialists, but who are totally morally and politically bankrupt when it comes to introducing the reformation of society envisaged by the Owenites. Revolutionary Socialists ignore the Ownenites as utopians who abstained from the class struggle and who have been superceded by the scientific socialism of Marx.
Marx and Engels did not share this contempt for the Owenites. They acknowledged their debt to the criticisms of capitalism and ideas of social change formulated by Owen and his associates. Engels also accepted the importance of Owen’s influential role during the critical period in the creation of the British working class between the mid 1820s and 1840s.
This attempt to describe the development of Owenism in one locality is a contribution to a clearer understanding of a vital aspect of working class history. It also poses a question about the future. Is Socialism merely about changing the economic system or is it an ideology of wider moral and cultural liberation? (1)
ROBERT OWEN’S PLAN
‘[W]e are doing all that lays in our power to accomplish the objects that induced us to leave old England to brave the dangers of the Atlantic Ocean and come to America, that is to provide an happy asylum for our kindred our friends and ourselves’ wrote John Hollingworth from South Leicester Massachusetts, to his uncle William Rawcliffe in the handloom weaving hamlet of Oldfield near Honley in March 1827. John had already discussed with his brother Jabez and three cousins how their ideals might be realised, ‘ and it is our firm opinion that it will be best to form ourselves into a system after the manner of Robert Owen’s plan, that is to form ourselves into a society in common to help and assist each other and to have one common stock for it is the unatural ideas of thine and mine that produces all the evils of tyranny, slavery, poverty and oppression of the present day’.
They proposed to buy a 200 acre tract of land in the Township of Yorkshire, Chataraugus County, New York which they would work together as a Community, fairly dividing all proceeds. John urged his relatives and friends remaining in Oldfield and its environs to ‘meet together and discuss the subject form such plans as you think proper and assist each other to utmost of your power for
‘Take this maxim old and young,
Friendship and union makes us strong.’
These proposals had already won a convert since John mentions that his uncle and namesake had written on 24 November, and ‘much approves of my plan of cooperation’.
The Hollingworths’ dream was never realised. John, Jabez, his cousins and relatives who were later to join them, continued to endure ‘the oppression of the Manufacturing System’ as the only alternative to ‘starving in England’. The experiences which drove them to emigrate and to embrace the ideas of Robert Owen were shared by many of the other working class men and women who came to seek salvation, if not in the New World of the Americas, in that New Moral World becoming known as Socialism – a system based not on competition, private ownership of capital, superstition and strife, but on co-operation, communal possession of wealth, reason and harmony. It is clear from the Hollingworth correspondence that the ideas of Owen, and practical suggestions for their implementation, were receiving serious consideration in at least one surrounding township of Huddersfield by the end of 1826. (2)
Whether it was before his departure from Yorkshire in October 1826 or after his arrival in America that John became an adherent of Owen is not apparent. He may have known at least an outline of his beliefs. In May 1825 the Leeds Mercury had carried a brief report on Owen’s return from America to dispose of his interest in New Lanark mills in order to concentrate on the establishment of the community of New Harmony in Indiana. (3) This marked Owen’s transition from the paternalist millowner concerned with innovations for the improvement of humanity within the structure of present society, to the architect of the ‘New Moral World’ built on the foundation of socialist communities. Although his New View of Society, based on the doctrine formulated at New Lanark, that external circumstances beyond the individual’s control shaped the character of human beings, was published in 1813, Owen’s views did not find immediate popularity among workers. Most local radicals were inspired by the Republican creed of Tom Paine and Richard Carlile and if they considered a social and economic revolution at all, it was one based on the agrarian socialism of Thomas Spence. But the influence of these ideas declined following the repression of the attempted 1820 uprising and the improvements in the economy. In 1820, in an attempt to gain backing from local dignatories, Owen presented his Report to the County of Lanark describing the communal social organisation he envisaged as a solution to poverty. Within a few years a community inspired by his plan was set up at Orbiston near Motherwell.
Industrialisation had been gaining ground for more than a generation. In the Huddersfield area, still only a minority of workers were directly embraced by the control of the ‘factory system’ and many of these were women or children employed in small wool scribbling and slubbing mills. Cotton spinning was the most mechanised of the local industries, some silk and worsted spinning also took place in the area, but there was little powered wool spinning. Weaving was still by handloom and usually carried out in the weaver’s own home under the ‘domestic system’ of production. Both woollen cloths and elaborately patterned textiles using a combination of wool, worsted, cotton and silk yarns, known as fancy goods, were manufactured. Although the handloom weavers were not yet directly threatened by powerloom weaving they were increasingly becoming enmeshed by a system of large scale production, in which merchant manufacturers, geared to an international market, employed dozens, and in some cases hundreds, of domestic weavers.
At the close of 1825 industrial capitalism suffered its first major slump, precipitated by financial collapse as banks, burdened by the debt of speculative capital thrown into new enterprises, crashed in succesion. In December Dobson’s bank in Huddersfield went under and the following month Shakespeare G. Sikes bank closed its doors. The Leeds Mercury reported, ‘The stoppage of the above bank has increased to great degree the distress already prevailing in the town and neighbourhood of Huddersfield and the calamity is much heightened by the failure of Messrs Taylor & Dixon…extensive dealers in the fancy manufacture.’ (4)
As manufacturers were left with bad debts or worthless banknotes and were unable to either buy new yarn or sell finished cloth, trade seized up. The handloom weavers were caught in the vice. Looms stood idle as the weavers returned from the manufacturers warehouse without new warps to weave. By March 1827, (about the time William Rawcliffe of Oldfield was being urged to consider his nephew’s Owenite plan), in Honley township alone, a woollen and fancy manufacturing area with a population of around 4,500, 500 looms were unemployed.
Those weavers who had work felt their wages sharply reduced, either by direct cuts or by being paid in goods such as meal, meat or even herrings, not worth the value of their wages. Others found that they had woven several yards of piece for nothing since it was under-measured by the manufacturer. Thousands of people were forced to subsist on a few pence a week and rely on soup or other handouts from the charity committees which were established to help the overburdened parish relief system. Unaccustomed to the type of labour, weavers were compelled to work on road repairing for a few shillings.
Such widespread unemployment destroyed the trade union organisation which had been built up in 1825, following the repeal of the Combination Laws. However, unlike some other areas, the poverty and distress did not lead to spontaneous acts of rioting and attacks on mills. In 1826 a mass meeting on Almondbury Bank became the first of a series which culminated in the formation of Political Unions in the area, demanding reform of parliament and the vote for workers.
Owen had tackled the problem of why, despite the massive advance of ‘scientific productive power’ the increased wealth created was not reaching those whose labour had created it. He proposed that the control of wealth production be taken away from the minority of capitalists by the formation of agricultural villages founded on ‘the principle of united labour, expenditure and property and equal privileges’. Labour would replace money as the only measure of value.
For some workers suffering unemployment or toiling harder for depressed wages while manufacturers’ warehouses bulged with unsaleable goods the justice and rationality of Owen’s proposals were apparent. But they could not wait until Owen found influential backers for his communities. They required a solution that would bring some immediate benefit as well as leading them towards a new society. Co-operation was a practical measure that could bring an immediate improvement in the workers’ condition as well as leading towards Owen’s vision. In the co-operative stores were to be sown the seeds of Socialism.
Our Beautiful System
Meltham Mills is attributed with having the first Cooperative Society in the area in 1827. Huddersfield had one in 1829 followed by Thurstonland and Armitage Bridge. Over the next four years they spread to Holmfirth, Shelley, Stocksmoor, Cumberworth, Almondbury, Lindley, Farnley Tyas, Milnsbridge and Lowerhouses. Some members may have joined for cheaper provisions but at this time most regarded the societies as a means to a more fundamental reshaping of society . The methods and intentions of the co-operators were outlined in 1831 at the Second Co-operative Congress in Birmingham by John Heaton the Huddersfield Delegate who described how local members had,
‘subscribed a small sum each weekly, which they employed in trade first by buying the necessaries of life at wholesale prices and retailing them out again to the public and themselves at retail prices – the difference being put into a common fund. In this manner it accumulated until they were able to employ their own shoemakers, tailors &c and at length, as in his own society at Huddersfield their profits and subscriptions united enabled them to set their members to work at their own trades. They had now 14 of their own members at work for the society on its own capital. They were manufacturing woollen cloth, waistcoatings &c…And thus they would go on increasing in wealth until they were enabled to rent and ultimately purchase land whereon they could raise their own food and erect dwellings and manufactories and become perfectly independent that is they would be always certain of the necessaries and comforts of life, aye and its allowable luxuries too by the exertion of their own moderate labour without the intervention of capitalists.’ (5)
The scale of the enterprises was very modest. Apart from Huddersfield only Thurstonland and (for a period at least) Holmfirth carried out cooperative production. Coat cloths, valencias, waistcoatings and shawls were supplied to cooperative societies in Manchester and Liverpool. Huddersfield No.1 Society, run by Chris Wood from a store at Westgate claimed 150 members and a capital of £299.17s.9d in 1832. Thurstonland had 40 members and £117.13s. The societies also had an educational role and both Huddersfield and Armitage Bridge were accumulating small libraries. The latter, which had 25 members and £65 in funds, also discussed setting up a school.(6)
The existence of a wider socialist objective referred to by Heaton is confirmed by Owen Balmforth, who, writing his history of the local cooperative movement in 1910, had access to the Huddersfield Society’s minute book. ‘In May 1831 the subject of promoting a Community was considered, and it was decided to be impracticable at that time, particularly in regard to the cultivation of Chat Moss.’ The Chat Moss experiment according to Holyoake’s history of co-operation unsuprisingly failed because “England had not a drearier spot in which to begin a new world”. (7)
Although local cooperators shared Owen’s economic ideas and desire to transform society, not all shared his wider philosophical views and particularly his agnosticism. A leading local exponent of cooperation was the Reverend C.B.Dunn, whose vision of socialism equated with the achievement of the Christian millenium. Only recently settled in his living as the curate of Cumberworth chapel, Dunn’s devotion to cooperation was fired by his moving experiences as secretary of Denby Dale relief committee which acquainted him directly with the terrible distress of the fancy weavers. He had no illusions in ‘this pernicious system of charity’ which forced weavers to undertake roadwork for a pittance. In January 1830 he wrote to his patrons, the Beaumonts of Bretton Hall, reflecting ‘It has pleased providence to place me here no doubt for the wisest of purposes, but I had rather it had pleased Him to have made me an overlooker of the well fed slaves of the West Indies.’ A firm believer in workers’ education he also ran classes in the National School on sunday evenings.
Speaking at a Sheffield meeting in 1832 he announced;
‘Now co-operation purposes remedying all the moral, political and commercial abuses and disorders which are at present preying upon the vitals of the country…In fact I know no institution which, in its nature, is so essentially religious, being a practical development of the whole system of pure and primitive Christianity. It anticipates the establishment of a condition of social equality in which there will exist a community of interests, a community of happiness and a community of wealth.'(8)
The Rev. Dunn also expressed his beliefs in popular verse which entered the repertoire of socialist songs including a ditty set to the tune of The Lass I left behind Me:
Let none who Christ’s example court
Contend for sect or station,
But all who human weal support,
These evangelical efforts were shared by Thomas Hirst, a shopkeeper and cloth dresser of Granby Street, who often spoke on platforms with the Rev Dunn advocating what the Lancashire and Yorkshire C-ooperator periodical called ‘our beautiful system’. Hirst also undertook an epic series of missionary tours, often on foot, not only around the district but as far afield as Kendal, Holywell in North Wales and Loughborough. Asking his audience ‘Did not poverty like an armed man stalk through the land and force an entrance into every industrious man’s habitation…’ he annunciated his vision of an alternative socialist utopia:
Community of property, equality of rights and privileges – these are the fundamental principles of our system. And what is the millenium of the Christians – what the social condition desired by the philanthropists – what the bright dream of a golden age which the poets delight to image forth? Do they anticipate any other scene of life than that which we desire to accomplish – that state in which “every man shall sit under his own vine and his own fig tree and none daring to make him afraid.” ?’
Hirst was also delegate for the Huddersfield area societies to the Cooperative Congresses held in Birmingham in 1831 and London and Liverpool in 1832. At London he exhibited a collection of cooperatively made goods from the North of England and condemned, not the use of machinery itself but the ‘ill directed production of that machinery.’ Denouncing the economic system his conclusions won him the cheers of the delegates ‘Strange that riches should lead to poverty – abundance to want – and plenty to starvation. He trusted this would not be put in printed history, for generations unborn would think those who lived in the present day not right in their heads.’ (9)
Although local cooperators supported parliamentary reform they were sceptical of its benefits. A report from Huddersfield cooperators to the Poor Man’s Guardian in March 1833 stated that ‘they feel confident that no plan of reform can permanantly benefit them, unless such as shall place them beyond the grinding influence of commercial competition, surplus capital and increasing productive powers… They, therefore aim at being their own masters and uniting capital and machinery in their favour.’ Hirst participated in meetings of the Political Union and was on the committee of the radical candidate, Captain Wood, in the first Huddersfield election following the Reform Act. The Cooperative Society also made a donation to Wood’s fund and in the 1833 election three cooperative store keepers cast their vote for him – prompting a correspondent to the Voice of the West Riding to point out that cooperation gave ‘labouring men’ the capital to qualify for the francise.
Relations between the Ultra Radicals and Hirst were strained on a number of occasions. When he was nominated by the Operatives Committee to ask the Whig candidate Ramsden questions at the hustings on behalf of the non-voters he was criticised for letting him off too lightly. Hirst replied to a visiting speaker who, at a radical meeting alluded to insurrection that ‘the workmen would not break the peace or destroy the lives or property of the masters and employers – the weapons of their warfare were morality, truth and knowledge, which was power.’ Along with the radical constable, William Stocks Jnr, Hirst also undertook to peacably clear the streets after the election riot of December 1832. While disapproving of the rioters he wrote, ‘The time has come when the voice of the people must be heard’. (10)
Co-operators also supported the demands of trade unions, but regarded them as a product of the competitive system of capitalism, engendering, in Hirst’s words, an ‘unnatural contest’ between masters and men, which only cooperative production would resolve. With an improvement in trade around 1830 the renascent trade union movement had gone on the offensive to restore wage levels. Locally the Leeds Trades Union or Clothiers Union, often known by the by-name of ‘John Powlett’ led several succesful strikes of different trades. The bitterest struggle was in the Holmfirth area in 1832 where most manufacturers were affected by a virtual general stoppage. On 25 October after nearly three months of growing hardship a meeting in Holmfirth agreed a resolution and address signed by Thomas Hirst, Abraham Whitehead, a Scholes clothier, and William Renshaw urging that funds be used to set up strikers in cooperative manufacturing,
‘Hitherto we have acted on the defensive; we have confined ourselves to simple resistance. Let us avail ourselves of all our resources – let us disarm our opponents by employing one another, rally round the standard of cooperation… We venture to prophecy that cooperation will prove to the operatives what the steam engine has proved to the capitalist.’
About £60 was raised and wool was bought and worked by some of the strikers. Despite predictions by masters that ‘this is John Powlett’s last shift,’ the cloth was sold at the Cloth Hall and profits used to buy further raw material. According to Whitehead, at the Cooperative Congress the following year, this success was instrumental in forcing the employers to concede the wage increases. Whether any co-oporative production continued is not recorded but links with Trade Unions remained. In 1833 it was resolved to form a Missionary District Association to operate 30 miles around Huddersfield to make use of the opportunities ‘opening for missionary exertions amongst the Trades Unions.’ (11)
Unfortunately Tom Hirst was no longer around to participate in this endeavour for which he was especially experienced. In April, as preparations were being made to hold the Fifth Cooperative Congress in his native town, he lay on his death bed, according to the Crisis as a result of illness ‘probably caused chiefly if not entirely by his over strenuous exertions in the cause…’ Thousands gathered at the funeral at Trinity Church on Sunday 13 May, including members of the Co-operative Societies, trades unions and other working class organisations headed by William Stocks and Captain Wood. ‘the sight of so many men attending to his last home this popular orator proves the esteem entertained by his own class for him.’ acknowledged the Halifax Guardian. That he was regarded as almost a saintly figure was also shown by the appeal launched by the Co-operative Society, with William Stocks as treasurer, requesting subscriptions to support Hirst’s wife and four children ‘ We have lost the best and ablest advocate of our cause in this part of the country; he had travelled thousands of miles and delivered scores of lectures – has spent his all and died a martyr for the good of his fellow men…’ One of the main contributors was Lady Noel Byron, an aristocratic convert to cooperation with whom Hirst had been in close correspondence. ‘[H]is life has been the means of doing good’, she wrote to Mrs Hirst, ‘his memory shall be so likewise…’ (12)
1. Fortunately the lack of interest in Owen in purely political circles has been to some extent compensated for by a large body of academic research. The main works used for this pamphlet are
John Butt (Editor) Robert Owen – Prince of the Cotton Spinners (David & Charles 1971).
Gregory Claeys Citizens and Saints: politics and anti-politics in early British socialism (Cambridge 1989)
Gregory Claeys Machinery, Money and the Millenium (Oxford 1987)
R.G.Garnett Co-operation and the Owenite socialist communities in Britain 1824-45 (Manchester 1972)
Royden Harrison Before the Socialists – Studies in Labour and Politics 1861 to 1881.(RKP 1965)
J.F.C.Harrison Robert Owen and the Owenites in England and America (London 1969)
Frank E.Manuel and Fritzie P.Manuel Utopian Thought in the Western World (Oxford 1979).
Frank Podmore Robert Owen – a biography (1906 Kelly reprint 1968)
S.Pollard and J.Salt Robert Owen – prophet of the poor (1971)
Edward Royle Radical, Secularists and Republicans – Popular freethought in Britain 1866-1915 (Manchester 1980).
Edward Royle Victorian Infidels (Manchester 1974)
William Stafford Socialism, radicalism and nostalgia – social criticism in Britain 1775-1830 (Cambridge 1987).
Barbara Taylor Eve and the New Jerusalem (Virago 1984)
2. T.Leavitt (Ed) The Hollingworth Letters (MIT Press 1969) page 5-7 et.seq.Thanks to Jennifer Stead for drawing my attention to this book.
3. Leeds Mercury (LM) 28 May 1825.
4. LM 24 Dec 1825, 4 Feb 1826.
5. Lancashire & Yorkshire Cooperator 1 Oct 1831.
6.Report of 1832 Third Cooperative Congress, London.
7. Owen Balmforth The Huddersfield Industrial Society ltd – History of Fifty Years’ Progress 1860- 1910 (Manchester 1910)p.23; G.J. Hoyoake History of Co-operation in England Vol.I. 1971.Edition
8.Bretton Hall Archives BEA/C2/B3/51a and 51b. Dunn to Mrs Beaumont 14 Jan 1830 and to Mr Brakenridge 21 Jan 1830 (Thanks to Cyril Pearce for drawing my attention to these references); CrisisApril, 2 Jun 1832.
9.Crisis14 Apr; 27 Oct 1832.
10.LM 1 Oct 1831; HHE 14 Apr 1832;LM 30 Jun 1832;Crisis 27 Oct 1832; Balmforth op.cit.p.25.
11. LM 4 Aug,25 Aug,1 Sep,27 Sep,13 Oct, 27 Oct 1832:Crisis 4 May,12 Oct 1833..
12. HG 18 May 1833;Crisis 22 Jun 1833.;Crisis 20 Apr 1833; Balmforth op.cit. For further details on Hirst see Robin Thornes, ‘The Origins of the Co-operative movement in Huddersfield’ in Huddersfield: A Most HandsomeTown H.A.Haigh ed. (Huddersfield 1992)
REGENERATION AND CONSOLIDATION
Robert Owen attended the Congress in Huddersfield, his first recorded appearance in the town, and was impressed by the level of support for co-operation, particularly from such respectable local figures as William Stocks. It is difficult to discern how far Owen’s outlook was influenced by the developments in working class organisation and the synthesis already taking place, as in Holmfirth, between co-operation and trade unionism. In the following months he certainly came to regard a mass based working class movement as a vehicle for his ideas of social transformation. ‘Owenism’ signifies a general acceptance of this strategy rather than merely adherence to particular organisations or ideas sanctioned by Owen himself.
Among his adherents in Huddersfield were some who held a prominent place in the local working class movement. Lawrence Pitkethly had been in the town at least since 1825 when his name appears on the list of subscribers to Huddersfield Scientific and Mechanics Institute. The spelling of the name caused problems for the writer as the first element was interpreted as a christian name and written as ‘Keigley Pit’. Pitkethly originated from Scotland where he had already become acquainted with Owen and he retained business links with his homeland through his trade as a shawl manufacturer and draper. He collected subscriptions for and corresponded with the militant atheist and Republican Robert Taylor, in gaol for blasphemy in 1828. On his release the following year Taylor visited the town as part of his ‘Infidel Tour’. Pitkethley also played a leading role in establishing Huddersfield Political Union in 1830 and was active in promoting the trade union movement and the ten hours bill. One of Pitkethly’s close collaborators was Joshua Hobson, a joiner, still in his early twenties in 1833 when he published the Voice of the West Riding which provided a forum for an whole range of working class ideas, including co-operation.(1)
Owen’s proposals for the establishment of Equitable Labour Exchanges, intended to put the labour theory of value into practice by replacing money with notes representing labour time, were discussed at the Huddersfield congress. Some local trade unionists saw this as a vital way of undermining the basic class relations of capitalism. One wrote to the Voice of the West Riding,
The rich have no right to be rich so long as a poor man exists, for that poverty is the effect of their wicked plutocracy… for the future workmen will be less beholden to masters than masters to workmen…the Trades Unions have only made the masters see this revelation, indistinctly enough indeed, but the SYSTEM of EQUITABLE LABOUR EXCHANGE will make them feel it, then the Tyrants must content themselves with being men.’ (2)
Faced by the growing resistance of the manufacturers, trade unionists increasingly came to regard an alternative system of production as a way of establishing workers independence and in some areas unionists ‘ opened several lodges under the title of “Commercial Order” the object being to raise a capital and commence for themselves’. A Commercial Order lodge was established in Huddersfield and received support from unions – enough to lay it open to the charge of fostering some ulterior purpose. It also took the initiative in 1834 of approaching the Masons’ Union ‘to broach the subject of having a Guild Hall erected at Huddersfield for the accomodation of the various trades. The project was highly approved of by that body and measures were adopted to bring about a general delegate meeting of all trades in the district.’ Unfortunately the trade union movement was on the brink of defeat and no scheme of co-operative production was begun.(3)
Owen encouraged the trend towards uniting all the working class organisations under one umbrella chairing a meeting at the Union Rooms, Swan Yard on 1 November 1833 which urged;
‘all Trades Unions, Cooperative Societies, Commercial Orders, Benefit Societies and all other associations intended for the improvement of the working classes to form themselves into Lodges to make their own laws and regulations to unite under the “Grand National Moral Union of the Productive and Working Classes” as proposed be the Congress held in London at the National Equitable Labour Exchange from 7th to 14th August 1833, for the purpose of emancipating the industrial and useful classes from the difficulties which overwhelm them.’
This body was to evolve early the following year into the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union (GNCTU), a general union with strong cooperative tendencies and an almost millenarianist faith in imminent social transformation.(4)
Another struggle was drawn into the unified offensive against capitalism. Factory reform had widespread popular support and the local Short Time Committee, established to agitate for the Ten Hour Bill, involved cooperative society members and trade unionists including some with Owenite sympathies. Owen, as a veteran factory reformer, realised its importance for social change and made the demand for an eight hour day central to the strategy of his Society for Promoting National Regeneration , established in Manchester on 25 November.
Lawrence Pitkethly, who was also busy supporting the election campaign of the radical candidate Captain Wood, wrote inviting Owen to a meeting on 26 December. John Fielden, a Todmorden manufacturer and supporter of Owen’s Regeneration Society and the leading Tory ten hour advocates, Richard Oastler, Rev. Bull and Michael Sadler also asked. ‘The Regeneration System will be firmly established on that day over the West Riding for we are to have delegates from every town…’ Oastler, Bull and Sadler, as well as Pitkethly’s close local collaborator, William Stocks Jnr, remained sceptical of the scheme further complicating the political divisions among the factory reformers exacerbated by the Huddersfield election.
Regeneration certainly had some enthusiastic local support and Owen’s plan for a general stoppage of work after eight hours on 1 March was proposed by a ‘non-elector’ in the Voice of the West Riding in language presenting revolutionary political change almost as a medical cure-all,
‘you must now organise yourselves for a future struggle, you must organise yourselves for the 1st of March: yes regeneration and co-operation will lift you above the unproductive few. By organising under Owen’s regenerating system you can create a government that will supercede the present legislature. This can be done without any kind of tumult, or if tumult should occur it will be the expiring throes of a factious government…’ (5)
Fielden was less optimistic. On 8 February he wrote to Owen that ‘In Yorkshire little has yet been done, the apathy shown in consequence of the Huddersfield election will make it necessary to postpone the period beyond the first of March…’. At a meeting at the White Hart on 15 February Huddersfield Short Time Committee formally resolved to stop agitation for the ten hour bill and adopt the regeneration system and eight hours. Cautiously, it also called on the Central Committee of the Regeneration Society to postpone the 1 March strike until 1 June ‘unless circumstances should turn’. Pitkethly reported to Owen that ‘Our political agitation has in a great degree subsided’ but a ‘regeneration missionary’ had visited the area and a committee formed. Friction with Oastler was still simmering since Pitkethly asked if remarks Oastler had repeated had indeed originated from Owen’s comments ‘that my patriotism went only so far as my shop or to that effect.’ complaining that his energies were taken up trying to ‘suppress division among the friends and leaders of the people’.(6)
Although the 1 March deadline was put back, sharper conflicts between trade unions and employers, backed by the state, and growing dissillusionment with the reformed parliament, reinforced the appeal of Owen’s goal of social transformation. ‘Society must be completely revolutionised’, wrote Verax in the Voice,
completely changed and this too must be the work of the workers. But in order to do this they must work for themselves. They must intercept profits, they must accumulate capital, they must obtain property and above all they must become possessed of their political rights. They must, as Mr Owen justly has said the other day, become a fourth estate in the realm and if the other three will not give way they must be superceded…’ (7)
Increased repression, of which the Tolpuddle agricultural labourers are the most famous example, united the aims of the trade unions and the Regeneration Society in the demand of Lancashire workers for a general strike on 2 June. However police raids in Oldham on 14 April precipitated a general strike call and though a meeting in Huddersfield on 19 April passed a resolution in support of the Oldham strikers and eight hours it was not followed up by any action. (8)
‘John Powlett’ was severely weakened by lockouts and the victimisation of workers. In June and July, following a severe defeat in Leeds, the Leeds Mercury jubilantly chronicled the demise of the trade unions. The Owenite journal Crisis replied that what was happening was ‘the dissolution of the “striking” system only’ and that ‘Partial strikes are merely the competitive system, in direct opposition to co-operation’. The Owenites thought that the salutory lesson of the futility of such strikes created a better climate ‘for the propagation and adoption of our views of the production and distribution of wealth.’ The GNCTU may have had some members in the area in March when contributions in support of the Derby strikers were sent to the union periodical the Pioneer including ‘A few initiated fancy weavers, Denby Dale’, ‘First Lodge of Operative Agriculturalists, Farnley Tyas’, ‘Nineteen Brothers at Thongsbridge’ and ‘A few friends at Starkeys’ Factory, Longroyd Bridge’. Perhaps some members of the collapsed Leeds Trades Union joined the GNCTU, which the Mercury described as ‘in almost as deplorable condition as the old union.’ (9)
In August the GNCTU was renamed the British & Foreign Consolidated Association of Industry, Humanity and Knowledge, ( still referred to popularly as the Consolidated Union) and the following month a Mr Reed from London visited Huddersfield to advocate the new strategy. ‘The theory appears to please but the practice will be difficult.’ noted the correspondent to the Leeds Times. On 18 October the report on a Consolidated meeting of trades delegates with Mr Reid carried more details.
‘It was the system, the present vicious system which had created monopoly…The plan he proposed was simply an extended system of cooperation among the working classes…’
Communities of 500-2000 were planned, financed by £50,000 to be collected from the 1d. subs of 3 million United Operatives, to buy land, buildings and other capital. Great confidence was placed in local adherents
‘They knew the men at Huddersfield had discharged their duty as Union men, had been steady to their purpose and that it was not owing to the disposition of the men that the masters had conquered them but for the want of an efficient system…it was settled that the first experiment should be made at Huddersfield and that the operations should commence as soon as £50,000 could be raised.’.
The regulations adopted by delegates at the August founding meeting to put the Union on a new footing were described – lodges of trades or joint trades were to be set up in each district, grand lodges were to furnish means of mental improvement, wholesale depots for stores established and the central committee was to have the ultimate decision on strikes in case of wage reductions. Strikers were to be set to work on co-operative schemes or paid 7s. a week strike pay. (10)
Another meeting with Reid (who was now apparently resident in Huddersfield) decribed how one and one fifth acre could support three people. The Westgate store was used as an example of the success of co-operation now employing 20 and possessing £2,400 worth of stock and ‘he was encouraged to find in Huddersfield they had found members to enter into the common fold under one common shepherd.’ (11)
Meanwhile Owen was disengaging himself from involvement with both retail co-operation and trade unionism, widening a divergence between these movements and socialism which was to have serious implications for the working class.
1. HEW 1 Aug 1896 ‘Off the Bat’s Back’ column; The Lion 8.1; N.Learoyd The Late Mr Joshua Hobson with a Tribute to his Memory’ reprinted from the Huddersfield Weekly News May 13th and 20th,1876; Stanley Chadwick A Bold and Faithful Journalist- Joshua Hobson 1810-1876 (Huddersfield 1976); S.C.E.Cordery, ‘Voice of the West Riding – Joshua Hobson in Huddersfield and Leeds’ Unpub. MA thesis, (York University 1984). Hobson was assisted for a time by John Francis Bray who had returned from the US where his family, formerly of Huddersfield, had emigrated. In 1839, now in Leeds, he wrote a major work of Socialist theory Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy.
2. Voice of the West Riding 9 Nov 1833.
3. Pioneer 1 Mar 1834;VWR 1 Mar 1834 ; Joseph Threppleton, a trade union defector wrote denouncing the Commercial Order plan to LM 24 May 1834
4..Owen Correspondence 620, Resolution of 1 November 1833 in the Co-operative Union Library , Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester . (Ow.Cor.)
5.VWR 11 Jan 1834
6. Owen Correspondence 607 Pitkethly to Owen 3 Dec 1833; 674 Fielden to Owen,8 Feb 1834;VWR 22 Feb 1834; Ow. Cor.Pitkethly to Owen 26 Feb 1834..
7. VWR 29 Mar 1834.
8.Kirby & Musson The Voice of the People – John Doherty (Manchester 1975) p.291.; 19 Apr 1834, Regeneration Society Committee had called a meeting on Dorchester Labourers John Foster Class Struugles in the Industrial Revolution (London 1974) p113.
9.Crisis 21 Jun 1834; Pioneer 15 Mar, 29 Mar 1834; LM 13 Sep 1834;
10.LT 27 Sep 1834; LT 25 Oct 1834.
11.LT 1 Nov 1834. This Reid or Read may be the one referred to by the LM at a meeting in 1837 as ‘a drunken co-operative tailor’ who it was rumoured, had been to America and left his wife and children there ‘by mistake’
THE NEW MORAL WORLD
On 1 November 1834 the first issue of Owen’s journal New Moral World appeared and announced three weeks later the ‘Seventh plan Proposed by which to terminate the irrational period of human existence, or the reign of moral evil’ Unsuprisingly, yet another shift by Owen left some of his supporters confused and disheartened. On 3 December John Ruce, concerned at Owen’s resignation as Grand Master Elect, wrote to him on behalf of the ‘central district committee of the First Huddersfield district’
‘ to ascertain the real state and prospect of the Society that we may be able to act so as to raise the drooping spirits of our Brothers and cause them one and all to feel and act as prudent men we in the North have hitherto been powerless on account of the faithfulness of some amongst us as also the want of an efficient system of union…We hope notwithstanding our fears that the union as within this last week been awoke from their sleep by your announcement in the Pioneer of last week and discharge their duty as men… ‘he warned however,’ …Some of our best members are filled with dismay and are ready to give up the object…’
The fate of the funds was of particular concern. The district had overpaid their debt to ‘the old union’ by 18s and ‘ also forwarded £10 as contributions’. Money for the paper was also owed and now they had contributions to send
‘but we not knowing how affairs stand in London wish some information from you in order to a faithful discharge of our duty… should our contribution monies be swallowed up in expenses etc the cause of the union will once and for ever be destroyed in the North, on the contrary should the two thirds be preserved, saved for the purpose of forming industrial establishments though its increase was slow, union would gain strength and respectability throughout the West Riding of Yorkshire therefore solicit such information as shall by a judicious procedure be a means of preventing the operatives from sinking yet deeper into poverty and bad feeling one towards another in the hope that you will not suppose for one moment that we are wanting a confidence as touching the executives faithfulness.’
The whole tone of the letter however reveals reservations about sending any more money to the executive and alarm at the new plan proposed in issue 4 of the New Moral World. Union activites still continued and 6d was levied on new members for the families of the Tolpuddle transportees. The plight of the former GNCTU leaders ‘Brothers’ Dowthwaite and Hrase caused concern that steps be taken , ‘We men having placed them in their office to see them out of any difficulties we may have caused them’. Basic support remained for achieving Owen’s goal. ‘…to keep up the spirit of union until we are universally fixed in our determination to introduce the New World.'(1)
This commitment was reaffirmed in a letter from Ruce two weeks later ‘225 members of the association are with you in the work of human redemption and we are only waiting your call to help against the supporters of the old universal world to show ourselves as unprejudiced and intelligent men.’ Evidently the query had not been answered since it was again asked if they should retain funds or remit them to Owen for establishing industrial establishments. The district committee was to meet on Christmas day for discussions.(2)
Pitkethly once more felt obliged to write to Owen to refute rumours, explaining on 2 May 1835 that ‘being busy and a good deal from home’ he had not been in touch. He was concerned that ‘Reid of this place by his false statements to the executive of the Consolidated union regarding me has made an impression that I was not what I professed to be…’. He had not been active for a while but, he assured Owen, ‘nothing ever inspired me with greater hopes of arriving at a happy consumation than your scheme of Consolidation…’ (3)
Huddersfield still retained a reputation as a centre of Owenism and received along with Manchester, special mention at the meeting at the Charlotte Street Institute, London, on 1 May which inaugurated the Association of All Classes of All Nations (AACAN) :
‘… this meeting highly approves of the measure adopted by the Manchester association calling a meeting of delegates for the population town and district around it to consider the best means to promote the object of the association; and that it recommends the same measures to be adopted by the associated friends of humanity under different names in various parts of Yorkshire especially in Huddersfield since the societies are so anxious for and desirous of commencing practical measures to relieve themselves from the poverty and gross absurdities which the present system has engendered.'(4)
The founding of AACAN marked Owen’s turn from regarding the mass working class movement as a vehicle for social change to reliance on a mainly propaganda organisation, composed of people who had achieved the level of consciouness necessary to advocate the New Moral World and win over anyone, irrespective of class, who would support that objective. Despite this cross-class appeal and the emphasis on the benefit on humanity as a whole, AACAN was predominantly composed of working class people and seen as an organisation to improve the lot of the working class.
The general ebb of political activity following the collapse of the unions in 1834 was not conducive to the growth of a new body. Even a stronghold like Huddersfield was affected and no socialist activity is recorded in late 1835 and 1836. The following February however, a cryptic letter from Huddersfield appeared in the New Moral World signed by ‘A silent but sincere socialist’ who described himself as having held his convictions for six years but had not been active. He was inspired now to become involved since he ‘and a great number of the working class (to which I belong) are very zealous in their admiration of and constant wish for, the proper propagation of the sublime doctrine of truth and charity…’ Twenty four copies of the New Moral World were distributed to Socialists in the town and neighbourhood like ‘twenty four embers scattered over an icy surface’. The writer appealed for ‘preliminary instructions with a view to forming a branch association’ since, ‘under peculiar circumstances myself, I am prevented from mixing with the Socialists here in their present state…’. The Editor added a note advising the correspondent to send his name so he could be contacted. (5)
A fortnight later the writer was revealed as Lawrence Pitkethly Jnr who said the appeal was motivated by his ‘overpowering anxieties for the redemption of mankind’. Already he had been joined by an ‘ardent and intelligent Socialist’ and requested that a package of tracts and handbills ‘announcing the publication and principles of “The New Moral World” be sent addressed to ‘Socialist at C. Tinkers’.
Pitkethly jnr was in his early twenties at this time and living at Buxton Road, probably his father’s shop. The 1841 census gives only his approximate age of 25 and locates him at Upperhead Row with the occupation of draper. His involvement in the socialist movement has often led to confusion with his father, but the fact that he had not been active for six years makes the distinction clear and it was Pitkethly jnr who undertook the reorganisation of socialism in the town. His father, while sympathetic, devoted most of his energies to the reviving radical movement which was soon to evolve into Chartism. Pitkethly Jnr’s reference to being ‘prevented from mixing with the Socialists here’ may be an allusion to the difficulties his father had encountered. (6)
Whether Chris Tinker, the radical beershop keeper and newsagent of Market Walk, whose address Pitkethly used, was also a socialist already is not clear, although it was probably through him that the 24 New Moral Worlds were distributed. He had been a staunch supporter of Richard Carlile and compiled lists of ‘Volunteers’ to support the Republican cause in 1833. Imprisoned in 1836 for selling the unstamped press he earned further notoriety the following January by allegedly inciting a meeting to shoot the Poor Law Commissioners. (7)
A preliminary meeting on socialist reorgansiation was held on 23 April and Pitkethly Jnr forwarded a copy of its resolution to the New Moral World,
‘That it is the opinion of this meeting that steps should be immediately taken to collect the scattered disciples of the Rational System in the West Riding of Yorkshire for the purpose of devising some means of disseminating the Social Principles as determined by Robert Owen, this meeting being convinced that those principles when generally carried into practice are pre-eminently calculated to remove all the evils, social, physical and mental by which the human race is presently afflicted.’
The first of the monthly West Riding meetings was set for Brighouse on 7 May. (8)
Huddersfield, Branch No.6, was represented by a delegate at the AACAN congress at Manchester on 10 May which claimed 15 branches. It was decided to overhaul the organisation including the move of the New Moral World from London to Manchester. L.Pitkethly jnr was nominated onto the newly created Board of Provincial Directors. (9)
Following a great West Riding meeting at Peep Green in opposition to the New Poor Law, Owen, one of the speakers, returned to Fixby Hall with Richard Oastler, William Stocks and other leading radicals and socialists including George A. Fleming, editor of the New Moral World and drew up a resolution calling for government intervention. This sums up Owen’s strategy of winning support of those best placed to implement his schemes and his worth quoting in full;
The present extensive and rapidly increasing distress which is everywhere overwhelming the most numerous and most industrious portion of our home population loudly demands the immediate strenuous and united efforts of the true patriots of all parties in as much as unless some plan for instant as much as ultimate relief be proposed the interests of all classes must be sacrificed – the safety of all the institutions of the state endangere and the whole country turned headlong into anarchy and revolution. It is therefore resolved that it is the opinion of the undersigned friends of the unemployed producers of wealth now present the first and most pressing duty of the people is to demand immediately from the government of the country such an advance of capital as would be sufficient to set those who are now starving to work so as to enable them to permanently support themselves by a due mixture of agricultural and manufacturing operations in their native land the surplus of which newly created wealth after fully providing for the wants of the producers themselves shall be applied to the payment of interest and the gradual repayment of the original advance – after which the whole wealth and property thus created shall be their entire sole and undivided property of its proper owners after furnishing their fair proportion to the maintenance of the national government. (10)
Parrallel with such appeals, the education of people towards a rational understanding of the need for socialism continued in the branches. In July Huddersfield announced it had procured ‘a large room’ for lectures, which was opened on Sunday 6 August by AACAN general secretary George Fleming. The new Manchester Street ‘Social Institution’ room was ‘decorated with diagrams exhibiting the influence of circumstances on the human being’ and appropriate inscriptions, while the front of the rostrum was ‘beautifully ornamented by the motto “Sacred to Truth without mystery, mixture of error, or the fear of man.” in silver letters on blue ground. The lectures opened and closed with ‘congregational singing’ led by a choir and orchestra formed of branch members. Fleming delivered a morning lecture on AACAN and the objectives of a branch, while in the afternoon James Rigby of Manchester spoke on the errors of the commercial and manufacturing system. At Fleming’s evening talk on the communities of Rappites and Shakers, also attended by socialists from Halifax and Bradford, the room was ‘crowded to suffocation… many persons being obliged to retire’. (11)
Enthusiastically the branch proposed in October to order 500 copies of Joshua Hobson’s new edition of’ Social Hymns – a quarter of the proposed print run of 2000. This was an expanded version of the original published in Manchester in 1835 and contained 165 hymns and festival songs ‘for the use of the Friends of the Rational System’. Joseph Smith of Salford, one of the AACAN provincial directors, visited to lecture and Fleming ,on a further visit, found that ‘the progress is really of the most inspiring nature’ with plans to build a new Institution to hold the growing audiences, already under discussion.(12)
By November 150 shares for proposed Institution had been taken up and on 9 December a PROSPECTUS FOR ERECTING A LARGE HALL IN HUDDERSFIELD To Be Used as a Social Institute &c. &c.’ was published in the New Moral World,
‘It must be obvious to all friends of social regeneration that a place of meeting (where truth may be taught, pure and unalloyed) is a desideratum of the first magnitude. The sun of truth has arisen, and it behoves those who have felt the enlivening influence to be up and doing in the great work of universal charity and good will…
It is only three months since Socialists opened their Institute at Manchester Street. At lecture times it is filled to overflowing even so as to be prejudicial to health, while vast numbers are kept back from a knowledge of the limited acommodation.
The Socialists have therefore resolved to extend their borders on the principles of this prospectus in full confidence that the generous, the philanthropic, the admirers of rationality, the benevolent, in short, all the friends of humanity will aid them in the important and benevolent undertaking.’
Meanwhile the landlord agreed to enlarge the present room.
In its first annual report the AACAN Central Board found the situation in Huddersfield very encouraging ‘ although the number of members is not large, there is a degree of determination evinced and talent found to support it, which is truly gratifying.’ (13)
Opponents were also impressed by the growth of Socialism. A New Connexion Methodist, the Rev. Dalton challenged Socialists to a debate on the ‘ fundamental facts.’ and, after an intial postponement due to the death of the Rev, Dalton’s mother, a debate with Lloyd Jones, another provincial director, took place in December. Great interest was generated by the discussion and the report to the New Moral World concluded elatedly ‘it has advanced the cause several years in Huddersfield…all we want is reapers to gather the harvest and storehouses to put it in.’ (14).
1.Owen Correspondence (716), John Ruce to Robert Owen 3 December 1834.
2. John Ruce to Owen 17 Dec.
3.Ow.Cor.730, Pitkethly to Owen 2 May 1835.
4.Owen Correspondence 620, Resolution of 1 November 1833 .
5.New Moral World 25 Feb 1837.
6.New Moral World 11 Mar 1837; CUL.OC 992, L. Pitkethly.Jnr to Owen 16 Feb 1838. is written from Buxton Road. Pitkethly Jnrs’ cultivated hand and ornate signature would make identification clear even if the ‘Jnr’ was omitted.
7. HG 20 Feb 1836;LM 20 Feb 1836; LM 14 Jan 1837;LT 21 Jan 1837.
8.New Moral World 6 May 1837
9.New Moral World 10 Jun 1837.
10. Owen Correspondence (896) 17 May 1837 Meeting at Fixby; Lloyd Jones Robert Owen – his life and times. pp.307-310.
11.New Moral World 22 Jul 1837.;New Moral World 12 Aug 1837.
12. New Moral World 21 Oct 1837,as well as the edition by Joshua Hobson an 1838 edition was published in Salford. The copy in Manchester City Library has handwritten in it in pencil in old script ‘Compiled by G.A.Fleming’ . Hobson also published a further edition in 1840, a copy of which is in Leeds City Library. The 1838 edition certainly was circulating in Huddersfield since Edward Lunn’s autographed copy came into the possesion of Owen Balmforth
13.New Moral World 9 Dec 1837.;New Moral World 16 Dec 1837.;
14.New Moral World 21 Oct 1837.;New Moral World11 Nov 1837..
New Moral World 25 Nov 1837; Lloyd Jones p.325. New Moral World30 Dec 1837.; Socialism Examined: Report of a Public Discussion between the Reverend T.Dalton and Mr Lloyd Jones of Manchester (Manchester 1838).
TRUTH WITHOUT MYSTERY
Foremost among the local reapers gathering in the socialist harvest were John Hanson and Robert Buchanan. Their background and the themes of their propaganda demonstrate that far from socialism being purely a utopian project based on a cross-class appeal it was popularly seen as a means of working class liberation. Both Hanson and Buchanan had close links with local struggles which could not fail to influence their concept of socialism as one based on an unequivocal class analysis. A further depression in the woollen and fancy trade which became apparent by mid-1837 also underlined the harmful consequences of capitalist production.
Hanson, born in 1790, a former fancy weaver but now described as a shopkeeper and living at Upperhead Row, had been involved in radical politics at least since the founding of the Political Union. In 1831, along with Joshua Hobson, he had been a committee member and signatory of a declaration calling for simultaneous meetings throughout the country – a virtual general strike – to demand radical reform . His involvement continued after the PU’s demise and in 1835, at a meeting attended by Feargus O’Connor, he moved a resolution to form a Radical Association in the town and the following year he campaigned for Chris Tinker, imprisoned for refusal to pay the newspaper stamp tax. (1)
He was also a leading supporter of factory reform being a prominent member of the Short Time Committee in 1832 and a fervent opponent of the New Poor Law. Even before the introduction of the law, replacing outdoor relief for the unemployed by punitive workhouses, or ‘Bastilles’ as they became known, which separated man and wife, he realised the implications of the underlying ideology of population control. At a Bradford meeting in 1834 he denounced the ‘Malthusian philosophy afloat in the world whose doctrine was that a poor man had no right to live except to labour for the rich.’
His close links with the plight of local workers were also signified by his role as secretary of delegation to the Hand Loom weavers’ Commission in 1837. At what stage he became identified with Owenism is not clear but he had certainly emerged as a leading member by 1838. That the Socialists still were involved in the struggles of the wider labour movement is clear from their readiness to hold a meeting at the Social Institution in January 1838 about the Glasgow cotton spinners’ union leaders convicted on a conspiracy charge. Hanson made clear that this was a symptom of a wider class conflict, declaring ‘capital sits on the high place and with a sceptre of iron crushes to earth the industrious classes’. (2)
Hanson was an energetic writer, in 1838 engaging in a pamphlet duel with Dr Frederic R. Lees author of a series of attacks on Owenite philosophy. The first pamphlet The Dissection of Owenism Dissected, published by Joshua Hobson in Leeds, wittily refuted Lee’s attempt to demolish Owen’s fundamental principle – that man’s character is formed for him and not by him as a result of external circumstances beyond his control. He reveals a knowledge of Rollin’s Belles Lettres, Dugald Stewart’s Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, Featherstone’s Calvin Institutes, Dean Swift and, at the ancient classics. Replying to the basic charge of Owenism’s atheism and infidelity he concludes
‘As for the abstract doctrine of the immortality of the soul, it is not a doctrine peculiar to Christianity – it is a tenet borrowed from the school of PLATO; and, whether true or false, it has nothing to do with Owenism as a distinctive system: whose fundamental doctrines refer only to the formation of character and a community of property. The fate of Christianity, and of the “everlasting gospel” are not in the hands of Owenism, but in those of Science and Philosophy.’
Lees responded with The Owenite Anatomised provoking Hanson to reply,(in an amusing vein belying the macabre tone of the title), with The Owenite’s Escape from the Charnel-House and Blow Up of The Ostomachia. Joshua Hobson was too busy to publish the manuscript and it was not to appear in print until April 1839, published by Abel Heywood in Manchester. Hanson describes the process of ‘action and reaction’ in the material world – a reminder that British Socialists were formulating their own philosophy of dialectical materialism independent of Marx – as the basis of human character formation and the present state of society. He also refers to the consequences of the political world ‘being founded upon the competitive principle, it treats poverty as a crime, while all its legal acts nearly, are for the protection of property in the hands of a few; and thus it is, that Nature is punishing both tyrants and their victims, because of the anti-natural institutions of society.’
How far such polemics were followed and the intricacies of the arguments understood by the rank and file Socialists is not apparent, however a correspondent to the Leeds Times in 1839, reporting a debate at the Magistrates’ Rooms, Bull and Mouth Street, between Hanson and Richard Carlile ‘on formation of character and doctrine of responsiblity’ evidently found it a bit abstract concluding ‘they appeared to differ more about words than things’. (3)
Hanson was also involved in radical politics being on the committee of the Huddersfield Northern Union, formed to promote the Charter, and general Socialist sympathy is indicated by the fact its inaugural meeting was held at the Social Institution.(4)
The date of Robert Buchanan’s arrival in Huddersfield is not recorded but he surfaces only in 1837 during the anti Poor Law agitation. A tailor from Ayrshire, who according to his son’s biographer had run away from home as a boy, he was ‘a dark, somewhat reserved young man, an omniverous reader, and a fairly fluent speaker, but it was in the height of fiery argument on the public platform that he appeared his best’. Holyoake also records that he was an ‘ardent speaker’ and ‘addicted to poetry’ , which perhaps contributed towards the career of his poet son and namesake. In March 1838 he announced the removal of his tailoring business from Threadneedle St to a former dispensary in Pack Horse Yard where he proposed to establish a news room stocking provincial and metropolitan newspapers, periodicals, literary, political and scientific works ‘set up in a most comfortable manner’ which would open 9am to 10pm for subscribers at 2s.6d. a quarter, and non members for 1d. admission. (5)
Like his close collaborator Hanson, he presented a clear condemnation of capitalism at the Glasgow Cotton Spinners meeting announcing that ‘It was a question of life and death, of wealth against poverty – of capital against labour…’. He firmly placed the Poor Law in the context of capitalism stating at a meeting in 1837 ‘of all despotism that of money was the most cold blooded as well as the most withering and it ought to be resisted to the death.’ A veiled reference to the possible need for physical force was uttered at another anti Poor Law meeting when he commented that he ‘ hoped the time would never come when the working classes would have to use force against the bill’. Along with Hanson he supported Oastler’s election campaign in 1837 because, as they wrote in a joint reply to criticism from the Bradford radical Peter Bussey, although a Tory, Oastler advocated ‘social reform’. By 1838 he was firmly on the circuit as a Socialist lecturer in June speaking at the Halifax socialists’ Third Social Festival and opening of new rooms, ‘Comparing the old world and the new, which is to be brought about by social change’ and a few weeks later, at Dewsbury. (6)
A theme he repeated was the misuse of technology under capitalism. At a factory reform meeting in 1838 he related the development of the factory system to intensified exploitation, asserting that ‘It was by no means fair that the great manufacturer should gain all the profits arising from mechanical discoveries and make slaves of the thousands who labour’. Machinery as such was not to blame for poverty but, as he made clear at a great meeting at Manchester to petition the queen to support Owen’s scheme, the misuse of productive forces, by diverting labour to the manufacture of toys, baubles, firearms and objects merely for show failed to provide worthwhile employment. At a Huddersfield meeting to petition parliament for support, he depicted Socialism as a way of gaining full benefit from the development of the productive forces and removing the class conflict capital accumulation had created.
‘from the advances made in mechanism and chemistry and in all the arts and sciences, society now posseses ample power to institute arrangements by which every individual may be enabled so to apply his labour as to be fully competent not only to provide for the comfortable support of himself and family but greatly to contribute to the advantage and happiness of the whole community. Therefore there was no use in machinery unless it provided the comforts and necessaries in life for every human being. By machinery being in the hands of a few individuals the field of labour had been materially circumscribed and a middle class aristocrcy had been created which was far more injurious to the interests of the working classes than any aristocracy that had ever existed….five million of the inhabitants produced all the useful wealth of this country and thus it was that every man whom laboured to procure for himself the necessaries of life had to produce as much as would support four others besides himself.
However at the Manchester meeting he expressed the Owenite opposition to strikes as a form of social struggle since they wasted resources which could be applied to the remedy of the underlying social problems. (7)
Even after Buchanan had become prominently identified with Socialism close relations with Oastler continued and he spoke at the event to mark Oastler’s departure from Huddersfield in September 1838. He took the opportunity to refute the Leeds Mercury’s claim that he, an ‘apostle and high priest of Owenism’ had absconded. In fact he had been engaged by the Sheffield Socialists as a regular lecturer – a role for which he proved eminently suitable. When time came for him to leave to take up a post of Social Missionary Sheffield branch resolved ‘Mr Buchanan’s conduct and missionary labours are highly satisfactory…we should be very happy in retaining him six months longer as he continually pours out the best wine last…’ Sheffield’s gain was certainly Huddersfield’s loss, although as a Social Missionary he retained some contact with his original branch.(8)
In the midst of an adventurous career which included near lynchings at Burslem and Whitehaven, in 1840 he was married at a ceremony officiated over by Owen to Margaret Williams, daughter of a socialist solicitor at Stoke on Trent who often accomodated speakers. His son, Robert born the following year became a moderately renowned poet. Buchanan kept up contact with Huddersfield until he moved to London in 1841 to join the staff of the Sun. (9)
It was one thing to spread the socialist message and another to retain members of suitable disposition and commitment to pursue the goals of a New Moral World. The education and indoctrination of members took on the characteristics of a religious sect, on which the organisation and cultural forms were indeed often modelled. To distinguish the bearers of the New Moral World from the adherents of the Old Immoral one an exclusive cultural identity and sense of moral superiority was created, which was underscored by a strong loyalty, reverence even, to the ‘Social Father’, Owen.
In February 1838 the branch, described as being ‘in a most flourishing condition’, undertook to implement the Central Board’s system of organisation under the guidance of G.A.Fleming. On 4 February he delivered a lecture to members on the ‘necessity for adopting efficient means to improve their mental and moral character and the importance of class meetings’. Classes were intended to train candidates and members ‘for the more effective instruction in the principles, practice morals and economy of the rational system with a view to harmonize their various feelings and opinions – the better cultivation of the faculties of their wives – female relations and other female friends of the Social system…’. Weekly discussion classes of ten members under a conductor elected in three months rotation were to be held and each member required to speak on a subject decided at a previous meeting, providing the ,’opportunity of expressing their views and feelings, their doubts and confidence concerning the Social System’. Female participation was to be actively encouraged. The conductors were to keep attendance and subscription records and to ‘observe minutely the conduct of those composing his class’ for habitual offences against social principles.(10)
The branch was eager for the personal recognition of Owen and on 16 February Pitkethly Jnr, in his capacity as branch secretary, wrote forwarding a ‘requisition’ from a member for Owen to baptise their newly born daughter. It was followed by a requisition signed with obvious pride by 216 members asking him to speak at Huddersfield ‘We are anxious Sir, for you to visit us that you may partake of our joy in beholding the progress which the principles of the New Moral World are making in this town and neighbourhood.’ Owen did not tour the West Riding until May when he stayed with Oastler at Fixby Hall. Whether he officiated over the child naming ceremony is not recorded.(11)
Such quasi religious rituals were intended to bind members together while setting them apart from the social life of non-members, as were distinct celebrations marked by the singing of social hymns and recreations to reinforce group solidarity. On 15 July a Social Festival was held on Coronation day with around 100 members and candidates some in ‘community dresses’, sitting down to a tea followed by the singing of Festival Hymns, dancing, songs and recitations ‘the party, several of whom met together as strangers, separated as friends, brothers and sisters.’ By Christmas Eve a good organ and ‘efficient choir of musicians’ had been acquired to enliven a similar festival. A report on the visit of Thomas Simmons Mackintosh in May also referred to the ‘harmony and good feeling which pervades the Huddersfield Branch.’ High value was placed on loving relations between members appropriate to the building of a new society based on community spirit. (12)
Open meetings were increasingly well attended. When James Rigby visited to speak on ‘the doctrine of the formation of character and the economical plans and arrangements of the social system.’ the Social Institute room was ‘Crowded to suffocation’ and a ‘Deep impression’ made on the audience. Attempts to involve females received a boost from the visit of Mrs Frances Morrison (widow of the former editor of the Pioneer) who spoke at Social Institution on 9 November on the rights of woman and officiated in child naming. Among the audience of around 600 were 2-300 ‘most respectable females’. Mrs Morrison also delivered a second talk at the Social Institution on education with a number of females present and lectured at the predominantly fancy weaving village of Lepton on 12 November. The efforts to reach out to women must have had some success since at the Christmas Eve festival it was judged that ‘The attendence of females is larger than formerly’. (13)
At the Huddersfield meeting in June to petition parliament to aid Robert Owen ‘in the carrying out of his benevolent views in reference to society’ John Hutchinson allude to the dual task they faced saying ‘many would conceive their object to be visionary but they did no wish to do their work in a corner, they wished the Government and the World to know what they were doing.’ The problem was how to win over support and at the same time retain the vision undiluted in the face of the opposition which was stirred up. (14)
One response to hostility was to emphasise the moral superiority of the Socialists. ‘EL’, probably Edward Lunn, in his report to the New Moral World defined what he meant by ‘respectable’ and it did not accord with the common usage as a synonym for the middle classes. For him it was ‘the honest intelligent and industrious producers of wealth who are the real respectables’. John Hutchinson, reporting the festival on Christmas Eve, also reflected on the salutory moral effects of socialism revealed by the contrast between ‘the sobriety and civil manners of those who participated in our “feast of reason” with the
‘brutal language and bullying conduct of the unfortunates who were reeling from the public houses; and when I consider that those who were now so sober and courteous might but for the circumstances of our festival have been similarly situated to the individuls around me, the good moral results of the kind of institutions and the general want of them appeared to me clear and self evident as light and darkness…’ (15)
Socialism meanwhile was sinking deeper roots in the townships around Huddersfield. Pitkethly reported in November ‘We are now the centre of an extensive and extending sphere of operations. The villages and hamlets generally around us (and there are many) within a circle of the extent on all sides of a “Sabbath” morning’s journey be up and doing in the great and glorious work of disseminating the benign principles of truth and humanizing charity…’ Several villages already had institutions or lecture rooms and five local lecturers were active. Honley a mixed woollen and fancy village with several large factories in the vicinity was certainly one of the most energetic and in the township rental for 1838 ‘Socialists’ appear as tenants of a cottage cellar in the steep narrow street at Berry Croft.(16)
1. Huddersfield Weekly News (HWN) 5 Jan 1878, obituary. Census 1841;HWN 19 May 1877, letter on Hobson’s death;LM 11 Dec 1831;LT 19 Dec 1835. LT 20 Feb 1836.
2. Hanson authored a pamphlet on factory reform Humanity Against Tyranny;LT 12 Mar 1834; NS 9 Jun 1837; NS 27 Jan 1838
3. These pamphlets are in Leeds and Manchester City Libraries.LT 20 Jul 1839
4.NS 29 Sep 1838
5.NS 24 Mar 1838.Harriet Jay Robert Buchanan (1903) Ch.I. Holyoake op.cit.p.376. Buchanan wrote The Past, the Present and the Future – A Poem expressing in verse his theory of Socialism. It was published by Abel Heywood
6.NS 27 Jan 1838; HG 11 Feb 1837; HG 2 Jan 1838; HG 29 Apr 1837; He also spoke at the great Peep Green meeting LM 20 May 1837; NS 9 Jun 1838;NS 17 Jun 1838.
7.NS 12 May 1838;New Moral World 2 Jun 1838;NS 12 May 1838;New Moral World 2 Jun 1838
8. LM 11 Aug;NS 1 Sep 1838;NMW 17 Nov 1838.
9.His wife lived apart at the Ham Common community. In 1850 moved to Glasgow where he remained involved in socialist and radical politics until , having suffered as a bankrupt in 1859, he died in 1866.
10.New Moral World 10 Feb 1838;New Moral World 14 Feb 1838
11.Owen Correspondence 992.L.Pitkeithly Jnr to Owen 16 Feb 1838.New Moral World 3 Mar 1838;New Moral World 19 May 1838
12. New Moral World 26 May 1838;NS 17 Jul 1838;NMW 19 Jan 1839
13.NS 7 Apr 1838 ;NMW 17 Nov 1838;NMW 24 Nov 1838;NMW 19 Jan 1839
14. NS 17 Jun 1838
15.NMW 24 Nov 1838;NMW 19 Jan 1839; Both Edward and his brother Edwin were active Socialists and since some references are to E.Lunn or simply Mr Lunn it is not always clear who is who. This confusion was revealed at a public meeting the following year when John Brindley denounced a pamphlet written by ‘Edward Lunn’ who he described as one of their secretaries. The Socialist speaker, F.Hollick, asserted that it was the brother who was secretary. As we know Edward acted as secretary and was one of the managers of the Hall of Science and that Edwin was a speaker and pamphleteer it is not clear whether they were being wrongly identified or whether both were involved in the same capacity. I have consequently referred to E.Lunn without distinction, unless the identity is clear.LM 7 Dec 1839
16.NMW 17 Nov 1838; Honley Rental 1838. I am indebted to Lesley Kipling for drawing my attention to this reference.
THE HALL OF SCIENCE
Growing audiences at the Social Institution attracted unwelcome attention as well as additional converts. The room was rented from Mr Sykes, landlord of the George & Dragon, and was only separated from the pub by a narrow passage. The magistrates suspended Sykes’ license for six weeks on the pretext he was keeping a disorderly house and made its renewal conditional on the eviction of the Socialists. In November the Council of the Social Institution drew up a memorial outlining their aims and appealing for a reprieve. The need for their own meeting place became even more pressing and a plot of building land was bought ‘ though not without encountering as opposition of the most immoral and dishonest description…’ Some of the clergy, particularly the Rev. Madden, persuaded the first sellers to break the agreement and ‘The managers were therefore obliged to have recourse to strategem; and by the assistance of a large and respectable manufacturer at last secured, although with very great additional expense, the site they now hold…’ The builder was also pressurised to break his contract on 25 Feb. (1)
The five hundred and seventy square yard site, part of a field known as ‘the pasture’ off Bath Street, was obtained by George Brook, dyer, Richard Smith Jackson, dyer and John Platts, cloth dresser. The deed of conveyance was finalised on 1 August with the managers of the Hall of Science (2):
John Dickinson tailor (18 Commercial St)
George Wood woollen spinner
Charles Robinson clothier (Lockwood).
Jonathon Charlesworth shopkeeper (Crosland Moor).
John Hanson shopkeeper.
Josiah Rhodes warehouse man.
Reid Holiday working chemist.
Joseph Armitage fancy manufacturer.
Charles Kaye joiner (Taylor Hill)
John Sykes clothier.
George Schofield shoemaker.
Edward Lunn cloth dresser (Birkby).
Despite some criticism of the diversion of resources away from the creation of production communities Huddersfield branch had not lost sight of this objective, hearing a talk in February on William Hodson’s community experiment at Manea Fen in Cambridgeshire. In 1838 the National Community Friendly Society had been established as a subsidary of AACAN and was levying subscriptions on its members to finance the purchase of land for communities. Nationally and locally it mainly drew on the same limited well of resources that contributed to the meeting halls. Robert Buchanan wrote to the New Moral World calling for support for the building of Institutions like Huddersfield’s ‘whether Congress takes up the question or not…this plan may be an important auxiliary to any larger scheme which may be adopted. Let us begin in earnest and in a shortime we may have a hall in every large town in England, sacred to truth…’ (3)
Braving the icy weather on Tuesday 2 April around 2000 people proceeded under an ‘elegant community flag’ to the site of the new Hall, where the ground had been prepared the previous Friday by 50 ‘social bretheren’, for the laying of the foundation stone. John Dickinson, chaired the event which consisted of speeches alternating with the singing of social hymns. The first resolution, moved by M.Nicholson of Halifax described, the need for social change to harness the new techonology,
‘That the progress of the arts and sciences and the wealth creating machinery is at present such as to have had no parrallel in the history of the world and in consequence certain changes in the constitution of society are indispensably necessary in order to give a right direction to these new elements of power…’
Social Hymn No.74 was sung, depicting the old world and its transformation by the founding of communities. That it was deemed appropriate for this event indicates that there perhaps was indeed some blurring between the role of the Hall of Science and the foundation of socialist communities.
Come, bretheren, let us timely haste,
And leave this wretched state,
Where millions their existence waste,
In discord strife and hate.
Here poverty and toil we view,
With wealth contrasted wide;
Here crimes and woes of darkest hue
Abound on ev’ry side.
Here charity – each social tie,
Is frozen into stone;
Man looks on man with iron eye
And feels for self alone.
Then bretheren, let us timely haste,
To quit this scene of fear,
And on some spot amid the waste,
Our social mansion rear.
So shall the millions in distress,
A beacon lighted see,
Will guide their steps to happiness,
And sweet community.
John Hanson and E. Lunn moved a resolution declaring the role of the proposed Hall in bringing about the new moral world
‘ the Socialists of Huddersfield congratulate themselves and the working classes in general on the present occasion having for its object the laying of the first stone of an institution sacred to “Truth without mystery, mixture of error or the fear of man” – an institution wherein the principles of a mild and benevolent philosophy shall be exhibited, calculated to bring peace on earth and good will towards men.’
John Dickinson laid the stone, followed by a chorus of the 6th Social Hymn with the appropriate Community theme;
Dispel the gloom! Be joy display’d,
Now the foundation stone is laid;
Our chains are loosed;we shall be free,
When settled in community. (4)
The Socialists did not receive their final notice to quit the Social Institution room until June and meanwhile regular activities continued. On Sundays ‘Social Services’ were held, accompanied by an organ and other instruments. A visitor reported that ‘the musical performances are excellent and their meetings are numerously attended.’
Outside lecturers included Joseph Smith of Salford who took a personal interest in the construction of the Hall and the social missionaries J.Green and Lloyd Jones. At the Huddersfield Socialists’ second anniversary held in Social Institution on the 4 August George Fleming of Leeds lectured on the ‘evils of competitive state of society’ and around 120 attended a ‘social tea party’ . Regular speakers also included local branch members. John Hutchinson, on 11 August ‘ beautifully and philosophically proved that man is entirely the creature of circumstances’, John Hanson used a diagram to illustrate a talk on the ‘formation of the human character’ and Edwin Lunn and Josiah Rhodes tramped the local circuit. There was a trickle of new members, five being reported on 13 October. (5)
Looking back, George Jacob Holyoake concluded that ‘the greatest disasters to the party arose from confusion of mind as to the theological policy to be pursued’. He even considered the renaming of AACAN in 1839 as the Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists as responsible for reopening ‘the whole question of religious controversy everywhere and on all occasions’. (6)
Socialism may have exhibited all the outward forms of some of the Christian sects but it vehemently rejected any belief in the supernatural and the superstitious. Socialists were not required to be pure materialists – Owen’s reference to the ‘Incomprehensible Being’ could be interpreted in agnostic, deist, or atheist terms. But Socialist appeals to reason and science were incompatible with the view of the bible as divine revelation. The theory of character formation challenged the concept of original sin. There was also conflict with Christians on moral questions. Joshua Hobson’s publication of a garbled edition of Owen’s ideas on Marriage was found particularly offensive. The whole idea of Community was opposed to the nuclear family bound by an insoluble church sanctioned marriage contract.
Huddersfield Socialists did not shy away from religious disputation and even sought it out. E. Lunn complained that none of the 60 New Connexion Methodist delegates at a conference in Huddersfield had come to a debate with John Cullen of Halifax. On 7 June, John Hanson delivered a reply to Rev.E.H.Nolan’s lecture ‘Revelation being the source of all that is good in all systems’. Edwin Lunn at spoke at the Institution 31 March, on ‘A Lecture on Prayer its Folly, Inutility and Irrationality Demonstrated…’ which was later published in pamphlet form another topic was ‘Divine Revelation examined, or Lecture on the Nature and Attitudes of the Deity’ and his pamphlet (or possibly Edward’s on , ‘Considerations or Reflections on Divine Religion’ was singled out for attack by John Brindley, the self appointed anti-Socialist crusader. As well as more abstract theological debates Lunn also analysed the social merits of Christianity arguing for the ‘Identity of Practical Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and Socialism as promulgated by Robert Owen.’
John Hanson illustrated Socialist progress over superstition in a letter to the NMW describing the peaceful death, without the consolation of religion, of Richard Hanson, who had joined the Socialists with his friend George Lodge, a former fellow Methodist. Poor Richard’s soul became a pawn in the battle between the Socialists and Christians, John Brindley claiming at a meeting at Leeds two months later that, far from dying happy as an infidel, Richard Hanson, had read the bible on the Sunday before his death and neither John Hanson nor Lodge had seen him for two days before his death and could not know what his last sentiments were. (7)
Some Socialists suffered for their heresy. John Hanson wrote to the NMW in March describing the “Persecution of Socialists at Huddersfield”. Josiah Rhodes, a warehouseman, had been dismissed by his employer John Dyson, a Wesleyan and subscriptions for his support raised by friends. Rhodes continued as an evangelical Socialist. When the anti-socialist William Pallister spoke at Berry Brow on the invitation of local tee-totallers Rhodes was in attendance and returned the following week to deliver the Socialist message. He delivered open air afternoon and evening lectures on Almondbury Bank to ‘large and very attentive audience’ and on 18 August, at Honley, before another large audience, he ‘showed the superiority of cooperation and community of property over competition and private property.’
His situation worsened and he felt compelled to write to the NMW reminding readers how he was discharged from employment by Christians and that subscriptions had been opened for him but the appeal had been discontinued after only receiving £2.5.4d. Due to lack of support from the Society he had taken up selling drapery and having paid £4 for a hawking licence had travelled 10-20 miles a day to earn perhaps 1s. or less. He had not bothered to renew the licence and was now standing with his few goods at Huddersfield market. ‘I now begin to despair. (8)
Temple of Free Enquiry
The progress of the Hall was reported regularly in the New Moral World. Joseph Smith a plumber and glazier who had designed Salford Hall of Science suggested some improvements on the original plan. On 1 June it was reported that ‘Our new institution is rising rapidly’ and by 10 July it was roofed. Each lecture presented the opportunity to raise the much needed funds. On 28 June after Smith lectured, £10 was collected for the building fund and at the second anniversary of the Social Institution on 4 August £14 was collected .(9)
By the end of May a fund raising bazaar was planned for August or September with J.Dickinson as agent ‘to receive any and all articles.’ An appeal for support for the bazaar was reported in the New Moral World of 31 August and in October George Wood, secretary of the Bazaar Committee, wrote requesting articles for sale. Amongst things already received were a ‘Pastile scent bearer’ and ‘rich silk handkerchiefs bearing a fine view of community. (10)
The date for the opening of the Hall was initially set for the 22 September and in August it was announced ‘Our building is rapidly approaching its completion and we are happy to find that the respectability of its appearance has already disarmed many of our opponents of their antipathies’. (11) Edward Lunn, secretary of the Social Institution, wrote asking Owen to attend the opening of the new Hall already ‘ in a state of great forwardness…The people of Huddersfield long to see you and hear you for many of our members even have not yet had an opportunity yet of seeing you…I remain your humble disciple in the great and glorious cause of human redemption’ (12)
Even if Owen agreed to visit the local Socialists were to be disappointed since the 22 September opening did not take place. According to John Hanson, because of rainy weather ‘and some miscalculations… the building and finishing operations have been so much retarded that it is found necessary to postpone the opening five weeks or longer.’ Lunn again requested Owen’s presence ‘Social Father…our new Hall of Science will be opened on the third Nov. next…the public generally are in high expectations of hearing you on this occasion and we hope you will make every endeavour to be with us…’.(13)
The opening went ahead on the day without Owen, despite the fact that the weather was still bad and the Hall not completely finished. The building was 17 x 15 yards and 30 feet high, comprising a main hall, 25 feet by 45 feet, with a musicians gallery over the entrance, a ‘very richly ornamented’ ceiling and ten windows, three of them of stained glass facing the speakers rostrum, (the central most ornate one designed by Joseph Smith), a committee room, kitchen and schoolroom suitable for 200. Conveniences were situated in the back yard and all was surrounded by a stone wall with a railing palisade at the front.
Local Socialists were joined by parties from Manchester, Oldham, Halifax, Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield for the occasion. At the morning meeting Joshua Hobson read the 125th Social Hymn and he had appropriately reached the verse;
The sons of night in darkening lines,
To bar its progress vainly form,
The Social Sun more strongly shines,
And gathers brightness from the storm.
when the self appointed anti-Socialist crusader John Brindley entered the room.
G.A.Fleming apologised for Owen’s absence in Scotland before delivering an inspiring hour long speech, later published in pamphlet form, The Right Application of Science outlining the Socialist creed and the aims of the Hall of Science. His descriptions of the state of contemporary society could be applied to any of the successive economic depressions which still characterise capitalism over a century and a half later;
‘At the present moment the social condition of Great Britain appears most gloomy: a universal paralysis seems to have smitten the nation; a fearful shadow of coming evil rests over the banker’s desk: care, anxiety and bankruptcy have entered the office and the warehouse: the machinery stands idle in the factory: and want, pinching want, and poverty have sat down at the workman’s desolate hearth, and banished from it peace and contentment.’
The global scene also has a startling relevancy for today ‘Famine, pestilence and war, have ravaged and devastated the most fertile regions. Nation has armed itself against nation. Science has been brought to aid in the creation of instruments of destruction, instead of production…’
Hope lay in the search for truth which the Hall would serve as a ‘Temple of Free Enquiry’ and the ‘great fight against error’ had already progressed, ‘now Socialism is proclaimed alike on the hill-side and in the valley: it has penetrated the secluded village and the crowded city; and forms the subject of conversation in the episcopal palace and the peasant’s cottage!’
Although the Rational Religion could offer a vision of the millenium on earth it could not offer the consolation of an after-life, yet Fleming concluded on the theme of joy in death;
‘Does not the feeling that our labours for future generations are destined to confer benefits upon them, to place them in a superior position for further discoveries, further conquests of happiness and knowledge, already enoble our nature, and diffuse throughout our inmost heart an exceeding joyfulness?…We shall calmly resign ourselves to the embrace of death with the ineffable satisfaction of reflecting that “we have left the world better than we found it”‘.
Buchanan joined Abel Heywood, Theodore Hall from Manchester and other prominent speakers on the platform for the afternoon’s proceedings but he was too fatigued, ‘after a most comfortless and disagreeable travel over the bleak and lofty hills which seperate Lancashire from Yorkshire’, to address an overspill meeting in the schoolroom. Following a hymn and overture the Social missonary, Frederick Hollick, formerly of Birmingham, lectured on the ‘present state of the commercial world’.
After a tea party in three or four sittings, evening lectures resumed with Fleming and Isaac Ironside of Sheffield. Fleming ‘then named a child of one of the members publically, making a few appropriate remarks upon the occasion.’
In the ensuing discussion Brindley demanded more than the customary ten minutes, but, reminded of the treatment of Socialists at his meetings, left after a short ‘outburst’. Celebration of the Hall’s opening continued the following day with around 400 attending a Social Festival. (14)
1.NMW 17 Nov 1838. LT 17 Nov 1838 Memorial to magistrates.;New Moral World 9 Mar 1839
2. West Yorkshire Archive Service,Wakefield, Registry of Deeds, NM: 604:633.
3.New Moral World; 23 Feb; 23 Mar 1839
4. NS 2 Apr 1839, Northern Star report on proposed Hall reprinted in NMW 13 Apr, Report from NS on foundation laying. Social Hymn No.6 continues:
The earth has been for countless years,
Deluged with blood, water’d with tears,
Yet men have lived, who clear did see,
The want of a community.
Affection there will constant reign,
And it will soothe each care and pain;
All that is lovely there will be,
In blissful, bless’d community.
5.NMW 11 May;NMW 29 Jun 1839;NMW 3 Aug; LT 10 Aug 1839; LT 10 Aug 1839;NMW 10 Aug 1839;NMW 24 Aug 1839; NMW 19 Oct 1839.
7.NMW 1 Jun 1839; NMW 1 Jun 1839; NMW 20 Jul 1839;NMW 5 Oct 1839;Leeds Intelligencer 21 Dec.1839..
8.NMW 23 Mar 1839; NMW 29 Jun 1839; NMW 24 Aug 1839; NMW 5 Oct 1839.
9. NMW 23 Mar 1839; NMW 1 Jun 1839; NMW 20 Jul 1839.;LT 10 Aug 1839
10.LT 8 Jun 1839; NMW 3 Aug 1839 ;NMW 31 Aug 1839; NMW 12 Oct 1839.
11..NMW 10 Aug 1839
12.Owen Correspondence 1139, Edward Lunn, secretary of Huddersfield Social Institution to Robert Owen, 4 Aug 1839..
13.NMW 28 Sep 1839.
Owen Correspondence 1167, Edward Lunn, secretary of Huddersfield Social Institution to Robert Owen, 9 Oct 1839.Direct to me at L.Pitkethley 98 Upperhead Row
NMW 12 Oct 1839.;NMW 12 Oct 1839.
14.”we have left the world better than we found it” this aspiration was echoed 53 years later in the dedication which opened the membership book of Honley Socialist Club.
Knight, assistant district missionary in NMW 9 Nov 1839.
NMW 30 Nov 1839.Ed Lunn: Report on Social Festival of 4 Nov.
CRACKERS AND CANNON
It may have been more than coincidence that the date of the Hall of Science opening had been postponed to the weekend of the 3 and 4 November. Local Socialists through sympathetic Chartists such as Pitkethly senior may have got wind of a proposed uprising set for that time and deliberately attempted to distance their members from it. In the event, only the Newport Chartists took up arms and were quickly defeated. However the ruling classes were sufficiently alarmed to seek a clampdown on any symptoms of subversion. (1)
The opposition facing the Socialists had been foreseen by Fleming at the opening ceremony. ‘Crucify him! Crucify him! has been the hosannah by which the philosopher has been met. The priest has raised the cry, and the people have re-echoed it.’ The crys and echoes in Huddersfield were to be as loud if not so violent as elsewhere.
Read Holliday, one of the mangers of the ‘Hall of Syence’ wrote to Owen eighteen days after the opening with a plea for assistance. A manufacturing chemist, Holliday was a former supporter of the republican atheist Richard Carlile. His spelling perhaps indicates a lack of formal education although he was certainly proficient in his trade producing several inventions and building up one of the leading chemical firms.
‘ Our principles are being so much mistated to the public that a lecture from you would be the best means of removing the prejudice at present running so high against us. Brindley as lectured four times. he as challanged you or any of the misoneryes to discuss the system he as instegated the masters to all kinds of prosecution and intimidation…We have some good native talent but they have not that command over the prejudices that a stranger would have – if you come what a harvest we should reap…the parsons are at us in all thare places – there scarce ever was such adgitation as now at Huddersfield on any subject.’ (2)
For the remainder of the year the socialists faced the assault of what John Hutchinson dscribed as the ‘heaviest cannon’ of Joseph Barker and John Brindley and the ‘penny crackers’ of William Pallister. Pallister’s anti-socialist diatribes attracted few people but audiences of thousands attended those of Brindley and Barker.
At a series of lectures by the Rev. Jos Barker a New Connexion Methodist of Gateshead on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday the 18 – 21 November at the Philosophical Hall, chaired by William Willans, Buchanan replied on behalf of the Socialists and was described as a ‘very powerful speaker…favourably regarded by his audience who were chiefly operatives having formerly resided there and being one of the leading agitators especially against the New poor Law.’ Resolutions moved by the Revs Henshaw and J.Wynn and seconded by the manufacturers George Crossland and George Mallinson passed on the Thursday meeting were published in the Leeds Mercury denouncing the Socialists’ attempts ‘to found communities upon the principles of infidelity’ which ‘aims at the destruction of the sacred ordinance of marriage’ (3)
John Brindley delivered lectures in early November as a result of which the Mercury corespondent prematurely claimed, Owen’s ‘horrid system has received its death blow.’ Socialism was still alive enough to demand his return the following month when he debated for two evenings with the social missionary Frederick Hollick of Birmingham before around 2,000 people, about a quarter of them women, in the Philosophical Hall. George Mallinson and Owen, who had come to the support of the Huddersfield Socialists, were named as chairmen by the disputants, with William Brooke, of Moldgreen, acting as ‘moderator’. The debate focused on the Socialists attitudes to marriage and Hollick’s claim that most marriages were bound together by the legal contract and not affection between those ‘whose hearts have long been asunder, but whose hands the law keeps together.’ created a storm of abuse ‘Here a torrent of hisses and groans was showered upon the speaker and a scene of uproar and confusion ensued which almost baffles description. We never remember to have seen such a strong feeling of disgust and indignation manifested in any public assembly…’ The meeting concluded after further uproar prevented Owen proposing an amendment, with the adoption of a motion that ‘it was the bounden duty of the inhabitants of Huddersfield to employ all proper means to root out from among them a system so destructive of the best interests of society for time and for eternity.’ (4)
Owen lectured at the Hall of Science during his stay in Huddersfield and attended a meeting called by the Brindleyites to petition Parliament against Socialism. Despite Brindley’s claims that he didn’t seek any form of coercive legislation this move alarmed some ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’. William Willans saying it was improper to invoke the secular power in support of Christianity. Owen moveed an amendment for the Rational System saying his aim was not to destroy morality but ‘to improve the condition of his fellow creatures’. William Brook announced that any of his workers present could raise their hands as they liked without fear.
The anti Socialist campaign had already led to cases of victimisation. Some of the largest firms of manufacturers carried out purges of their workforce. A firm at Milnsbridge, probably the Tory Joseph Armitage, dismissed several employees and the Starkey Bros of Longroyd Bridge sacked seven, two of them with 19 years service. One of these was the foreman of the dyeing department George Brook who had procured the site for the Hall of Science. For him it proved a blessing in disguise since he was forced to establish his own business. He nevertheless remained a lifelong Owenite. John Brooke of Armitage Bridge, after hearing Brindley, called one of his men into the office and said ‘Jem, I am informed thou art a Socialist – now I cannot keep anyone who entertains such principles and I will give thee three months notice.’ After hearing Owen’s defence at the public meeting called to petition against Socialism he found himself in much agreement and announced to loud cheers that the notice was withdrawn. Another of Brooke’s employees holding ‘strong socialistic views’, Thomas Milner, a fine-drawer, also remained with the firm for many years.(5)
John Hutchinson described the atmosphere created by the attacks of Brindley, Barker and Pallister, ‘ “Cautions” and “Warnings” are placarded in the streets, tracts, calumnys and misrepresentations are circulated: workshops and factorys converted into inquisitions: spies and informers appointed; workmen threatened, noticed and discharged…despite of all, our lectures are attended by crowded audiences, and those who dare not come only make room by their absence for those that dare.’ On Christmas Day evening young women attended the festival at the Hall, ignoring placards warning against mixing with Socialists ‘considering, and not without reason, their virtue to be more secure at a Social Festival, than at a religious prayer meeting.’ (6)
The number of Socialists who were victimised directly as a result of Brindley’s campaign may not have been great, (although the emigration of valued members escaping persecution in 1839 and 40 was recollected five years later), it was sufficient to deter some from being identified with Socialism. The hypocrisy of the crusaders did not evade the correspondent of the Leeds Times ‘The object of the should be Rev Mr Brindley and his puny puritan band is to crush the Socialists at once by depriving them of the means of subsistance and driving their wives and families into the poor house…and this is called protecting christianity!!! (7)
The bigotry stirred up against the socialists was experienced by Owen himself when he was staying at the George Inn. After a dispute with commercial travellers the previous evening about his presence on entering the breakfast room he was again told that they were unaccustomed to keeping company such as his. Owen quickly retorted that he too had been in better company. Taking this as a reference to his recent introduction to the Queen they made some disparaging remarks about being more particular than Lord Melbourne about their associates and forced the landlord to show Owen to another room. (8)
Ironically, and probably offensively to its pro-clerical opponents, in December the Hall of Science applied to register as Place of Assembly for the Religious Worship of Protestants – licensed by the Ecclesiastical court – in order to legalise its collection of funds at the door. The Leeds Intelligencer pointed out that although JPs or Archdeacons had no discretion under 55 Geo.III c 155 (29 Jul 1812) to refuse a licence lecturers should swear oath and JPs should insist they do so – an oath originally formulated as an anti-Catholic statement. Buchanan, now a missionary in Manchester was one of those hauled up before the magistrates. After initially refusing to swear the Protestant oath he later relented, much to the disgust of some of his fellow Socialists. (9)
At a national level the campaign against the Socialists was spearheaded in the House of Lords on 24 January 1840 by the Bishop of Exeter who presented a petition from Birmingham. Lord Brougham advocated the Socialist’s case, supported by petitions from the Central Board of the Society of Rational Religionists signed by Owen, and three petitions from socialist branches, including Huddersfield, welcoming a full inquiry into their system. Exeter specifically execrated Robert Cooper’s ‘The Holy Scriptures Analysed…’ and quoted blasphemous statements made in speeches at the opening of Huddersfield Hall of Science.(10)
1.The question of the planning of a national uprising revolves around the authenticity of reports about a meeting at Heckmondwike at which Yorkshire delegates agreed to the date. See David Williams, John Frost – A Study in Chartism(Cardiff 1939) and A.J.Peacock Bradford Chartism 1838-1840 (York 1969)
2.R.Holliday subscribed 1s. to Carlile in The Gauntlet 31 Mar 1833 and Read Holliday of Fieldgate appears on a list of Republican Volunteers sent by Chris Tinker on 23 Apr Gauntlet 5 May 1833.Owen Correspondence 1184, Read Holliday to Owen 21 Nov 1839.
3.LM 16,23, 30 Nov 1839.
4. LM 23 Nov 1839; LI 23 Nov 1839,LM 30 Nov 1839. ;LM,LI, 7 Dec 1839;LT 7 Dec 1839.
5. HEW 15 Jan 1881; George Brook [obituary]. born 1803, a blue dyer with Alexander of Folly Hall then foreman of Starkeys’ dyeing department which he had to leave in 1839 ‘on account of the opinions he held on social questions’. He was described as a promoter of Voice of the West Riding and the Hall of Science and remained fond of Owen’s writings up to his death. Buchanan refers to the dismissal of seven old and faithful servants by Starkey. in his Concise History of Modern Priestcraft (Manchester 1840) p. 140, one of them, probably George Brook was unsuccesfully asked to return, since his replacement in the job had damaged so much cloth. Thomas Milner’s obituary HEW 12 Dec 1874)LT 14,21 Dec 1839;NMW 28 Jun 1845. A fuller account can be found in my ‘Brooks of Larchfield Mill’. https://undergroundhistories.wordpress.com/the-brooks-of-larchfield-mill/
LT 14 Dec; NMW 21 Dec 1839; Willans was a leading local Whig, patron of the Independent chapel and later grandfather of the future prime minister Herbert Asquith; Arthur Sykes, Ramsden Street Chapel (Huddersfield 1925) p95-96
6.NMW 4 Jan 1840, Vol.vii
7. LT 14 Dec 1839.
8.LI 14 Dec 1839. It is perhaps a comment on the detachedness, if not aloofness of Owen from rank and file members that he was staying at the George rather than at someone’s home.
9.LI 4 Jan 1840,Lloyd Jones p.367, Holyoake op.cit.p.240-244
10. LI 1 Feb 1840
PECULIAR TO OURSELVES
Despite the persecution there was still grounds for guarded optimism and enthusiasm particularly now that Socialism seemed about to be realised. With the purchase of land around the Queenwood farm in Hampshire. Read Holliday wrote ‘We are in much spirits and hopes about the Tytherly estate if we can strip enough of the old world off to carry our principles into practice O what a change the world will experience but it does really beough the directors to watch all points the old system as traind the people up to such duplicity and wickedness of all sorts and shapes that it will be little short of a miracle if we succeed…’ (1)
Lectures continued with visits from Charles Southwell in January, who spoke on Rational Religion, H.Knight, Joseph Smith from Queenwood, William Chilton from Leeds, Robert Cooper and the social missionary John Ellis of Bradford. On the last Sunday in April Owen lectured to an audience which ‘comprised many of the wealthy classes of society’ for two hours. Counter propaganda continued. A lady from Religious Tract Society stood near door of Hall of Science one sunday distributing tracts against socialism and infidelity. A socialist attempted to convert her with a choice quote from a Socialist tract, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself,all mankind are thy neighbours.’ (2)
John Hanson delivered a favourable report to the quarterly meeting of the Huddersfield Branch in May
“…even the unparalleled depression of trade has not withered our pecuniary resources; our income has been adequate and more than adequate to our current expenses. This is cheering indeed. For though ‘Mammon is not the sin of our church’ we find it necessary to cultivate an acquaintance with the sordid god…’
However only a month later, ‘the sordid god’ proved to have at least one devotee in the Socialists’ ranks. To raise money for the completion of the Hall the Socialists had entered the Ship Inn money club and to avoid the ‘very strong prejudices against Socialists’, had taken out a £200 share in the name of Joseph Armitage of Albion Street, whose socialist affiliation was not publicly known. Two houses and a plot of land were given as security for £70. Armitage took the money box containing £130 which was to be paid in, bought a trunk and hat case from a sadler who he promised to pay in cloth, and departed on the Manchester coach en route for America. Reporting the story of the ‘Judas’ the Leeds Times cautioned Socialists against surrounding people with such ‘external circumstances’ again! (3)
Despite what must have been a very demoralising experience which could have given rise to divisive squabbles the Social Missionary John Ellis reported reassuringly in November ‘In this Branch the strictest order prevails’.(4)
The Socialists were aware that their attempts to create an alternative culture and ideology generated suspicion and resentment. Hanson observed ‘We have become a distinct body in society having modes of thought and a routine of amusements peculiar to ourselves, which, being different to the forms and notions now prevalent in old society, the one is termed heretic, the other licentious and immoral.’ (5)
The entertainments were as vital as education in welding the branch together and many years later a former Socialist described to Owen Balmforth how they attended the Hall and ‘revelled in the social and dancing parties held there.” ‘No intoxicating drinks’ were allowed, but this was a rule at many religious festivals as well.
Music played a vital role in these events. As well as specifically Socialist works such as Social Hymns (which were probably based anyway on religious and traditional tunes) much of the music was popular and mainstream. The Hall of Science, like a religious meeting place,had its own organ, the ‘ opening’ of which in September 1840 was celebrated with the singing of the Halleluja Chorus and a talk by the district lecturer James Rigby on the ‘Formation of Character’. When Rigby left a few week later to become the governor of the Tytherly estate a soiree was held which included a toast to the Queen and the playing of Rule Britannia. In November 1840 it was reported that the Social Harmonic Band was rapidly improving. By the following February the Band, ‘which consists of a number of young men of the operative class’ was now able to perform Stamitz, Hadyn and others. The band also had a vocal section , and by the end of the year its first oratorio with 60 performers was presented. There were about 20 musicians the following March.
For the Whit Tuesday holiday of 1841 the Socialists held alternative celebrations in the form of a Social Festival on Castle Hill in a level hedged enclosed field adjacent to a garden. The fine weather attracted 8-9,000 spectators and there was no interference from the crowd, although a ladies and gentlemen’s tea party on the same site had been stoned not long before. Dances included ‘The Union’ quadrille arranged by the Hall of Science dancing master. The following May a rural fete was held on the same site to celebrate Owen’s 71st birthday with the Social Harmonic Band playing overtures and music for the dancing of, quadrilles, gallopades and Circassian Circles. Social Festivals were also held in the Hall of Science when balls raised much needed funds for the building. At on in November £27 was raised for the £300 debt by charging 200 people entrance of 1s.3d. for men and 1s. for women.
The Social Harmonic Band became so accomplished that the Huddersfield Choral Society passed a resolution, 29 to 19 ‘That any member of the Choral Society going to perform at the Hall of Science should be excluded and forfeit all money they had in the society.’ The Leeds Mercury, a source by no means sympathetic to the Socialists, claimed that the Social Harmonic Band would otherwise have taken the Choral Society’s best members. The Society’s librarian was also forbidden to lend any copies of music to Socialists. In April 1843 a member of the Choral Society was summoned before the committee to explain ‘why he attended to perform at the Socialists Hall a few weeks ago, after having signed the rule against attending’, and was ‘suitably reprimanded by the Chairman.’ (6)
In January 1840 a ‘Day school for the instruction of the young mind’ was opened with Mr Cullen of Halifax as teacher in the schoolroom (capable of holding 200 pupils) followed on the 26 January by a Sunday school. John Ellis reported that during his September visit ‘I questioned the children and am happy to say that the labours of the teachers have not been spent in vain.’ By March 1842 a “well organised and numerous sunday school” was still thriving but, only two months later was reported, along with the day school, to be short of teachers. Given the range of subjects this is not suprising. On the 13 November the schoolmaster Mr Philips examined pupils on atmosphere, geography, astronomy, Cuvierian division of the animal kingdom, osteology, arithmetic and geometry. The school was also short of equipment and E. Lunn, hoped that NMW readers would help provide some. (7)
For adult members there was no distinction between political and moral education and the natural sciences – the aim of all tuition being the attainment of truth. On Sunday 1 November 1840, the Halls first anniversary celebration, R.Buchanan lectured in morning on the ‘Fundamental Principles of Socialism’ and a few days later on the ‘History of the Devil’. In January 1841 Emma Martin spoke on ‘Education’ and, the following evening, ‘Marriage’. T.S. Macintosh visited with his lectures on the ‘Being and attributes of God’, ‘ Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul’ and his ‘Theory of the Universe’ described as ‘…a deep and patient examination of the system of nature’ Advocates of Newtonian philosophy invited to come for a debate did not turn up.
John Hanson delivered a series of ‘psychological’ talks ‘intended to exhibit the progress of the human mind and comprizing a review, historical, critical and metaphysical of the principle systems of religion and philosophy…’. During his address to the branch quarterly meeting on 26 January he referred to how several members ‘ have been stimulated to take up certain sciences in which they have attained an unexpected proficiency’. Further subjects taken up over the following months and years were; John Hanson, a course of 12 lectures on Geology; Joshua Hobson 5 lectures on electricity and Mr Sladen of Leeds on animal magnetism. Science could also be used as entertainment and at the Social Festival in 1843 there was an ‘exhibition of the humerous effects of laughing gas’. (8)
Socialist activities continued in the out-townships particularly Honley. On 5 December 1839 H.Knight visited the village “where an extensive class is forming in connexion with our branch” and J.Southwell found that in January 1840
‘ At Honley our friends are very numerous, the lecture I delivered at that village was listened to with the most profound attention, their patience was wonderful for the heat was intense in consequence of the crowded state of the room.’ Whether by this time they had relocated from the cottage at Berry Croft is not apparent. James Rigby visited on 3 September and John Ellis, the social missionary on the 28 th. The latter reported that victimisation of Socialists was prevalent ‘The pious millowners make a practice of visiting the amusement class occasionally to see if any of their slaves are there.’ Some had been threatened with dismissal. On the following month he lectured at Honley on the ‘Principles of Phrenology’ and again recorded that ‘The spirit of intolerance reigns here; though superstition is fast declining, poverty and the fear of it, prevents many who are favourable to the new views attending the lectures. They fear the wrath of the followers of the lamb.’ (9)
1.Ow. Corr. 1184, Read Holliday to Owen 21 Nov 1839.
2.NMW 21 Mar 1840; NMW 2 May 1840
3.NMW 16 May 1840; LT 20 Jun 1840; LI 20 Jun 1840;Although the Leeds Times describes Armitage as a ‘spinner’ he may in fact be the fancy manufacturer of that name who appears on the deed of 1839 but is ommitted from the names party to a deed in 1845.
4.NMW 12 Dec 1840
5.Vol.ix,NMW 20 Feb 1841.
6.Vol.viii,NMW 12 Sep 1840;NMW 3 Oct 1840; NMW 14 Nov 1840; Vol.ix,NMW 20 Feb 1841;NMW 1 Jan 1842; NMW 22 May 1841;NMW 26 Mar 1842;LT 21 May 1842; LT 10 Nov 1842; NMW 28 Jan 1843; W.L.Wilmhurst Huddersfield Choral Society Centenary Memorial 1836-1936, quotes: ‘Rule 28. That no person shall be a member of this Society who frequents the Hall of Science or any of the “Socialist Meetings” nor shall the Librarian be allowed to lend any copies of music (knowingly) of this Society to any Socialist upon pain of expulsion.’
7. NMW 1 Feb 1840NMW 3 Oct 1840.NMW 26 Mar 1842NMW 21 May 1842Vol.xi NMW 19 Nov 1842
8.NMW 14 Nov 1840; Vol.ix,NMW 20 Feb 1841, NMW 19 Feb 1842; NMW 17 Jun 1843.LT 28 Jan 1843
9. NMW 4 Jan 1840; NMW 25 Jan 1840; Vol.viii,NMW 12 Sep 1840; NMW 3 Oct 1840; NMW 12 Dec 1840.
CO-OPERATORS AND CHARTISTS
The Socialists still remained sympathetic to co-operation and the setting up of a Cooperative store and workingmen’s bazaar was announced in February 1840 and reported the following year to be ‘ doing uncommonly well’. ‘ But in the 1830’s a divergence had occurred between co-operators and the socialist advocates of the New Moral World who regarded ideological preparation for communism essential. The Leeds Times reported in 1840 that the Co-operative Society was ‘quite distinct from the socialists’ the majority being of ‘orthodox religious persuasion’. By now from its original 30s. Huddersfield co-operative society had capital worth over £4,000 three stores, a weaving shop and 200 members. Lady Byron still continued her support so carefully cultivated a decade before by Tom Hirst.(1)
A letter to the Leeds Times from a Huddersfield shopkeeper outlined the aim. Change was to be brought about gradually by co-operators buying up capital until they had the whole parish and hopefully soon all the county of York:
‘When Society shall have been moulded into this form no man will have to labour above three hours a day and this will command sufficiency of every necessity and every philosophical refinement in life… England is now treading in this path. One portion have become rich and effeminate the remaining vast body are becoming every day poorer… Co-operation or something like it must step in and distribute more equally the wealth of the country and make it the interest of every man to maintain our nationality entire.’ (2)
The society was however not regarded as an end in itself but as a means of social change which did not exclude communism.
‘Had they had no society these profits would have gone into the hands of capitalists…if every 200 of the working classes had as much capital as these have what could hinder them from going into community or prevent them in a short time buying up all the land in the country?’
Although as organisations they maintained their distinctions, some individuals would have belonged to both bodies . Fraternal links existed and in December 1837 the Cooperative Festival was ‘held in the large room of the Socialists which was impressively decorated’. Toasts were made to ‘the people, the producing people, the source of all wealth’ and to Owen as well as Oastler, Fielden, Feargus O’Connor, temperance, ‘may the principles of radicalism advance’, G.S.Buckingham, ‘Liberty of the Press.’ and ‘The Friends of Co-operation all over the world’. (3)
The Co-operators’ involvement in working class politics extended further than sympathetic toasts at festivals. In July 1839 the Cooperative Friendly Society donated £1. to the Chartist’s National defence Fund and the following month at a meeting on the state of the country the co-operator George Barker advocated that they must carry out ‘to the letter’ the ulterior measures proposed by the National Convention to achieve the Charter , ‘act upon co-operative principles and put their 5s and 10s together and buy articles at wholesale prices.’ and observe the ‘sacred month’ general strike. He was supported by another co-operator, James Matthewman. The following February, Barker moved the first resolution at a meeting in support of a pardon for the Newport leaders, Frost, Williams and Jones. Another co-operator Joseph Bray, a shopkeeper of Upperhead Row, was a Huddersfield nominee to the National Charter Association General Council, ie. a member of the local NCA committee. He certainly did not share the Socialists’ theological views as he remarked at one co-operative festival that ‘God helps those who help themselves’.
The Cooperative Society held its 10th Annual Festival on New Years Eve 1839 in a decorated Philosophical Hall attended by 450 men and women, glee singers and a band present. Religious hymns signified the distinction from the Owenites. The event opened with the singing of ‘Be present at our table lord’ and tea was followed by ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow…’ The evening was closed , after the welcoming of the New Year with ‘God dismiss us with thy blessing’.
‘and trusting that right will overcome might and ardently wishing for the time when all will become independent labourers, having the full fruits of their industry and mankind living together in one family in peace, love and charity, the company seperated.’
Co-operative hymns were also sung on the theme of labour as the source of wealth including
‘Cooperators come rejoice
On this our festive day
For our exertions have been blessed
In a most prosperous way.’
‘The fruitful fields confess our toil
The palaces our genius show,
The boundless ocean and the Isle
Acknowledge our labour too.’
The speeches and toasts reiterated these ideals. David Lawton from the chair announced that only co-operation could alter wretched condition of labourers and James Blackburne felt ‘they would always be slaves to capitalists until they have capital of their own’. Soon, according to W.Cliffe ‘the operatives would form one grand co-operative society through out of the country’. The co-operative creed was summed up by the toast. ‘The productive classes the source of all wealth and may they co-operate to obtain the wealth which they create.’ (5)
Although there was some expansion of co-operative stores, in Lepton for example, the Co-operators were also hit by the economic crisis. The Northern Star carried the advert in June 1840
‘ Huddersfield Co-operative Trading Friendly Society. The members of the above society return their sincere thanks. to their friends and the public in general for the liberal support they have received and hope by strict attention to business and small profits to merit a continuance of the same. They have on hand a large assortment of all kinds of fancy woollens, broad and narrow cloths of their own manufacturer, cassimere, kerseys, plains, bucks and doeskins, tweed &c.&c. at very reduced prices and co-operative societies can be served at the shortest notice. Store, No.10 Westgate; Warehouse No.2 Pack Horse Yard.’ (6)
The following month the Leeds Times reported that the weaving shop had failed. The society now had 200 members and £4- 5,000 capital accrued mainly from store profits. The society’s original view had been to buy an estate in England but now land was too dear. A festival was held for the send-off for two members, both methodists, leaving to make arrangements to purchase a small estate in USA. (7)
The Hall of Science was the venue for around 500 attending the 1840 New Year eve co-operative festival. George Barker in the chair referred to the past ‘ year of great suffering to the productive classes…[the] best friends of suffering millions had been incarcerated and transported for advocating the cause of Humanity.’ The view that repeal of corn laws would make any difference to the working class was dismissed by James Matthewman since, ‘so long as we are without capital, so long shall we be the slaves of the capitalists.’. George Avison and Jos Bray proclaimed that ‘Co-operation can emancipate the labouring classes physically, morally, religiously, and politically’ and that if all producers had done the same as the society they would have had the Charter already. Like the Socialists the co-operators made some attempt to involve women. Mrs Smith called for females to come forward and co-operate with their husbands. She moved the collection for the ‘old King’ Oastler which raised £1,12.6d
By the 1843 Co-operative festival only 200 were present and the capital had shrunk to £2000 – a large amount being expended on settling 5 families on 200 acres in Illinois. The co-operators road to communism had proved no more succesful than the socialists’. (8)
The passivity of Socialists regarding the political organisations of the old immoral world brought them into conflict with those who sought a political restructuring of society as the precursor of social change. Josiah Rhodes’ exhortation to respect the powers-that-be, the singing of Rule Britannia and toasting of the Queen at a soiree in 1840, contrasted with the strong republican tradition in local politics. (9)
Chartists were sceptical of what they regarded as the Socialists misdirected energies. Soon after the Hall’s opening when Read Holliday wrote to Owen for support against Pallister and Brindley he also referred to attacks by the chartists. A ” sacred month champion against socialism” had predicted that in 12 months the Hall of Science would be a church school and attacked the plans for Tytherly – ‘he gave us some specimens of wit about Mr Aldam, the pigs turnips cow and calf upon 500 acres of common land” (10)
However some prominent local working class leaders, such as Joshua Hobson and Pitkethly the elder, supported both movements. Hobson found time to devote to both, on the platform, writing pamphlets and publishing Socialist and Chartist material. Pitkethly appears to have spent most his energies struggling for the Charter, although it is not always clear when it was himself or his son involved in Socialist events. Friendly relations usually existed between the two bodies. Although some Chartists may have regarded the Hall of Science as a misconceived project they did derive some benefit. Only a few weeks after its opening Feargus O’Connor addressed a large crowd in the Hall on the Newport arrests. The Honley Socialists also opened their premises to Chartists barred from meeting at Smithy Place schoolroom. (11)
An amicable discussion between Chartist and Socialists ‘the majority of whom formerly acted together as Radicals.’ was held in 1841 with John Leech, presumably considered neutral on the subject, in the chair. ‘Both sides charged each other with want of sympathy for their respective causes.’ The Socialists, Hanson, Hutchinson and Rhodes argued that if the Charter was ‘obtained tomorrow would not benefit the labouring classes at all, except they were previously prepared for it by a general difussion among them of the knowledge of moral and political science, which alone would enable them to wield such a mighty power to their own or the general welfare.’ Vevers, Shaw, and Clayton replied that ‘it is absurd and ridiculous to attempt to establish socialism in the face of the mighty power leagued against it and the working classes generally except they first obtain direct political power.’ (12)
The relative merits of rival theories were regularly debated. Margaret Chappellsmith put both the Anti-Corn Law League’s and the Chartists’ theories under economic scrutiny in lectures on ‘Corn Laws and National Debt’ and ‘The progress of machinery and Charter remedies.’ while prominent Chartists such as Henry Vincent and Bronterre O’Brien delivered lectures in the Hall. But increasingly local Socialists thought that the Chartists were attempting to undermine them and ‘ in this neighbourhood appear to be taking up arms against us: they complain that we abuse them.’ Their response, when it was announced that B O’Brien was to lecture in Huddersfield in January 1842, was to reply to any attacks by inviting him to a ‘friendly public discussion’. O’Brien was one of the prominent Chartists who were more favourable to Socialism but he believed that the plan to found communities was going about social transformation the wrong way. It was necessary for all land to be nationalised under a democratised state – and for that they needed the Charter.(13)
1.NMW 1 Feb 1840 ;LT 22 Aug 1840
2.Leeds Times 13 Jan 1838
3. Leeds Times 22 Aug 1840;NS 6 Jan 1838.
4.NS 20 Jul 1839; NS 17 Aug 1839;NS 1 Feb 1840
5.Other songs included the verse ‘Hark the cumbrous shackles fall/ From the rude uncivil grasp/freeing labour from the thrall/ Of fell mammon’s savage clasp.
Freedom,Freedom is the word/ labour must with wealth be crowned/that will break the despots sword/This his bribery dumfound.’
NS 4 Jan 1840
6.NS 13 Jun 1840;As well as stores the co-operators also had a room for meetings, (in January 1840 George Barker lecture there on Cooperation) at Upperhead Row, formerly a Primitive Methodist Room); See Robin Thorne op.cit.
7. Leeds Times 22 Aug 1840
8.NS 9 Jan 1841;LT 7 Jan 1843
9. NMW 3 Oct 1840 to mark the departure of the Social Missionary James Rigby to become governor of the Tytherly community.
10. Owen Correspondence 1184.
11.NS 30 Nov 1839; NS 3 Apr 1841.
12.LT 8 May 1841; relations with the Chartists were not too bitter since Tom Vevers’funeral was held in the Hall of science in May 1843 when Joshua Hobson read the text ‘Let me die the death of the righteous’ NS 27 May 1843.
13.NMW 14 Aug 1841 Taylor. p.164;NS 30 Oct,6 Nov, 1841; NMW 11 Dec 1841; NMW 1 Jan 1842; Alfred Plummer Bronterre – A Political Biography of Bronterre O’Brien 1804-1864 (Allen & Unwin 1971)
A CRITICAL POSITION
At the 6th Annual Congress of the Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists the growing disillusionment of members became apparent. The Huddersfield Report given by Joseph Smith stated that locally ‘They did not want so much of the metaphysics as of downright practical measures for bringing them out of the poverty, wretchedness and misery in which they were placed.’ However, the implemetation of ‘practical measures’ under Owen’s control only compounded the movement’s problems. (1)
Owen’s enthusiasm for practicalities emphasised the creation of a show-piece community at Queenwood to attract influential support. The building of Harmony Hall did little to advance the practical implementation of the community and in fact increased dissension by adding to the crippling burden of debt the community had already incurred. The weakening of the working class movement shifted Owen’s emphasis back to the search for influential and wealthy patrons and correspondingly reduced the role of the missionaries who increasingly found themselves starved of funds. The appeals for financial backing for the Home Colonisation Society in order to help relieve increasing economic distress presented Socialism as just one current among several back-to-the-land solutions to the problems of capitalist industrialisation. It became a project for wealthy philanthropists and not an act of working class self liberation. Also, in order to limit inconvenient dissension which would obstruct Owen’s strategy, the “elective paternal” system of government was introduced, under which presidents of the Society, from Central Board to branch level, were elected but then nominated their own officers, thereby undermining the democratic ideal of Socialism dear to many working class members.
William Speirs, the district lecturer, reported from Huddersfield in October 1841 ‘our position here is very rapidly improving a subscription to pay off branch debts has raised £30. Their new president is a man of great inflexibility of purpose and posseses the confidence of the entire branch.’ Around 240 were present at the second annual social festival to commemorate the Hall of Science’s opening in November. Holyoake was billed as the main speaker and having walked from Sheffield was ‘dazed and abashed’ to find the town plastered with ‘rainbow coloured’ posters bearing his name. He later paid tribute to Speirs who lectured after him on ‘Community’ considering him ‘the ablest lecturer we ever had’. (2)
Huddersfield accepted Owen’s organisation and reported, ‘This branch has adopted the government of unity and elected Mr John Gudger president.’ The matter was still under discussion in January when a meeting declared confidence in the views of the Central Board after a talk by Fleming . It was perhaps to counter some disquiet that Speirs spoke the following month on the ‘Principle of Dissent and its application to Socialism’. He also defended Owen’s strategy in a lecture on ‘Socialism and Home Colonisation’, which ‘showed that the capitalists were now willing to assist the well disposed of the working classes to redeem themselves from the present most degraded position in society.’ The matter appeared resolved by the time of the VII Annual Congress (at which the name of the UCFSRR was abbreviated to the Rational Society) when Pitkethley reported that the Huddersfield Branch, ‘had adopted the unity of government and were quite unanimous as to the desirability of carrying out the proposal which had been made by the Central Board’. Nationally however, the debate raged and in September R.Philips, the ‘resident schoolmaster’ of the Hall of Science, thought it necessary to lecture on T.S.Mackintosh’s attacks on Owen’s principle of management.(3)
Opponents of Socialism had repeatedly anticipated the collapse of the movement ‘There has been no agitation or movement of any note whereby to distinguish the past year, ‘reported the Leeds Times of Huddersfield in January 1841 ‘…Even the Socialists have become silent and suffered themselves to be eclipsed by the latter day saints – even by the children of Mormon.’ Edward Brooke, a leading Wesleyan preacher, sought to hasten this eclipse by the delivery of vitriolic sermons at Chapels at Moldgreen and Queen Street claiming ‘Most of the prevailing crimes of society are attributed to the filthy and beastly publications issued buy the damned Socialists…’ Condemning Halls of Science as ‘Halls of Devils’ he predicted ‘it will not be long before the Hall at Huddersfield will have to be sold – by God I will have a bid at it if it be full of devils!’. He said he had bought tracts and studied Socialism. It was bits of Hume, Voltaire, Paine and Bolingbroke ‘put in a sive and then squeezed into a lump (loud laughter), the devil is at the head of it and damnation at the end of it (cries of Glory…It is lad &c.)…’ (4)
Some signs of flagging enthusiasm did become evident in 1841. The familiar complaint of today’s meeting organisers, that the weather is either too good or bad to encourage attendance, was apparent in a report for August 1841 ‘The summer months are not the best for either lectures or amusements…’. However more wishfulness than reality is apparant in the Halifax Guardian’s assertion in September 1841; ‘Huddersfield Socialists – these creatures of circumstances are well nigh extinct.’ (5)
The fashion of blaming the Socialists for practically every social problem was repeated by the Mercury which, describing the increase in the number of ‘houses of ill-fame in Huddersfield, mused ‘whether this arises from the negligence of the civil authorities or from the spread of the licentious doctrines of Owenism we cannot exactly say…’ Socialists were still targets of persecution, William Brook refused to employ George Wood, a woollen spinner, one of the Hall’s trustees.(6)
The economic crisis deepened throughout 1842. The Socialists were keen to show they had an immediate and permanent solution for workers’ suffering. Unfortunately the reality of Queenwood failed to live up to its image as a model for the new world. William Speirs addressed Chartists and Anti-Corn Law Leaguers on Home Colonisation at a meeting in the Philosophical Hall, where ‘there was much of the wealth and intelligence of this neighbourhood present and they appeared to listen with greedy attention’. Alexander Cambell visited, also to talk on Home Colonies and the Orbiston community, while Owen himself lectured at the Hall of Science on ‘Causes and remedies of our national grievances.’ At the third anniversary of the Hall John Watts and Joshua Hobson spoke ‘To Chartists and Socialists on the present insane application of machinery and the fallacies of Free Trade.’ While these lecturers appealed to reason and presented a neat blueprint of the solution to society’s ills they did not accord with the reality of the workers’ experiences. The great strike wave which shook the manufacturing districts in August 1842 passed the Socialists by practically unnoticed, as far as influencing their strategy went. But they could not escape the consequence the defeat of the strike was to have for the course of working class struggle as a whole. (7)
James Rigby, Deputy Governor of Queenwood visited on 22 January 1843 to give a first hand account of the ‘arrangements now in progress at Harmony Hall, Hampshire, to effect the entire regeneration of the human race’ to an ‘overflowing audience’. A February meeting of 2000 people in the Philosophical Hall on distress and its solution was addressed by the Chartist David Ross, Owen, Rigby, Lloyd-Jones, and Isaac Ironside,and a resolution to settle the unemployed on the land was adopted. (8) A resolution calling for the Charter was also moved by Edward Clayton and seconded by the co-operator Joseph Bray. Ideas of settling on the land were becoming more popular among workers – a move welcomed by Socialists.
E.Lunn described David Ross’ lectures to Chartists on 19 February as ‘ merely the cast of all lectures of our Social Missionaries at their first outset in the world…’ at last the Chartists were begining to regard land as the first step towards change. In July 1843 Honley Chartist Association called for a penny national levy to buy land, tools and build houses under the direction of a “sound headed practical man”. At the Huddersfield district meeting the following week to discuss the reorganisation of the National Charter Association a resolution was passed that “in any plan that may be adopted it will be essentialy necessary to combine with the General Agitation of General principle A LEGAL SCHEME FOR A PRACTICAL EXPERIMENT UPON THE LAND.’ By December Almondbury NCA was discussing the details of such a proposal based on weekly readings from Feargus O’Connor’s “Management of Small Farms.(9)
O’Connor backed up his plan with the publication in the Northern Star of other aricles on agriculture including the serialisation of a pamphlet Manual of Field Gardening or Belgian Agriculture made easy,. by John Nowell of Farnley Bank, a manufacturer at Birks Mill, Almondbury, and an enthusastic amateur scientist and agronomist. Nowell saw the establishment of industrial farms based on spade husbandry,like those he established under the patronage of Lord Dartmouth at Slaithwaite and Farnley Tyas, not only as a means of relief during temporary trade depressions but as the beginning of the re-establishment of small-scale land tenure. He wrote to the cloth dresser Joseph Thornton of Paddock, who was a supporter of both Owen and O’Connor, clarifying his aims, despite the Star’s allusion to his “Whiggery”, as being ‘to give every man, that can and will labour, a “stake in the hedge” – an interest in the land…In a cause so grand let us eschew political bickerings, and hold party spirit as infinitely below our notice’. Although the techniques of spade husbandry discussed by the Chartists repeated many of the arguments Owen had proposed for quarter of a century there was a fundamental difference in that they sought to return workers to the land, not as members of socialist communities, but as independent farmers – the old Radical image beloved by Cobbett of a ‘bold peasantry’. (10)
The economic situation and growing interest in land as the solution may have meant more receptive audiences for the Socialists but membership nationaly and locally was actually declining. The withdrawal of funding from the Social Missionaries by the Central Board in late 1842 and the inability of the districts to fund permanent lecturers inevitabley led to reduced activity and enthusiasm. Some veteran lecturers continued to visit, including Mrs Martin, George Fleming, and John Watts. Others such as Chilton, Southwell and Holyoake had parted ways with Owen, who they accused of retreating from the ideological war against religion and abandoning those who had been gaoled for blasphemy. Their initiatives had some local support. In September 1843 Pitkethley, (probably senior) , donated 5s. to the Scottish Anti-Persecution Union in support of two Edinburgh booksellers arrested for selling works of Paine and Voltaire . Holyoake began publication of the Movement in December as a rival to the New Moral World but there is little evidence for contacts in Huddersfield apart from a reference to a package, presumably of literature, sent to a ‘Mr Thornley’. (11)
At the grand social festival on 23 January 1843 although 180 attended the celebrations and £10.6s.6d. collected for Harmony Hall the secretary felt it was ‘not as noisily attended as we could have wished…’ He also thought it necessary to ‘let me entreat our members to be more punctual in their attendance to the afternoon lectures’. Most ominous was the admission of a ‘critical position with respect to our Hall’. By August 1843 it appeared that ‘This district appears to be slumbering; we have no agitation on any question to bring the people to a sense of duty.’ and on 17 September when , Joseph Smith visited Kirkheaton with L.Pitkethly ‘friends could not procure a room’. This is evidently Pitkethly senior since he is described as ‘an old veteran’. Pitkethly junior was however acting as corresponding secretary pro.tem. in October a sign that the branch was not completely moribund. (12)
Some of the loss of membership was due to the continuing flow of emigrants. Chris Tinker left in 1842 to help establish a community at Equality, Wisconsin, but died before his aim was realised. His newsagents at Market Walk was acquired by Joshua Hobson who spent more time in Huddersfield until he finally returned from Leeds, where he had been publishing both the New Moral World and Northern Star, following his bitter rift with Feargus O’Connor. (13)
Honley appears to be the only area not experiencing the general decline it being claimed in April 1844 that ‘The cause of Rationalism is progressing very well in this locality and all that is wanted is a little agitation to establish it firmly’. Jos Smith lectured in April and Lloyd Jones at the end of July. At a festival on Easter Monday 70 were present and a branch of the socialist Sick and Burial Society was established with an initial 12 names. There was some criticism of the running of Harmony hall with a meeting deciding that the Executive ought to dispense with hired labour, pay no salaries and turn the community into a centre for propaganda by establishing a printing press and a lecturers department. Walker Green, the secretary of the Honley Socialists, was a former radical and founder member of Honley Northern Union in 1838. (14)
Disillusionment grew as the prospects of establishing communities receded. Members, hard pressed by unemployment, were increasingly unable, or reluctant, to part with money only for it to be poured into the seemingly bottomless pit of Harmony Hall. Accounts forwarded to the Central Board from the branch in 1843 show the numerous commitments, including , £4,1.0. for the General Fund; £2.10.6. for the Community fund (‘no arrears’) and £1.13.0 goods. The only Huddersfield person recorded as benefiting from Harmony Hall was the son of George Brook, the dyer who had procured the site of the Hall of Science . George Jnr was sent to the fee-paying Harmony School in August 1843. With the debt from the Hall of Science hanging over the branch and membership was in decline, to channel resources to Harmony was to invite ruin. (15)
In January 1844 it was announced that the Chartists proposed to use Hall of Science on alternate Sundays and perhaps two nights a week. ‘We are given to understand’ gloated the Mercury,’ that this arrangement has been entered into on account of the embarrased circumstances of the Socialists who are endeavouring by this method to recruit their exhausted coffers…'(16)
In June the Mercury had further cause for delight when it carried the advert,
‘TO BE SOLD BY PRIVATE CONTRACT, all that substantial well-built HALL; known by the Name of “THE HALL OF SCIENCE”…for price and particulars apply at the Cooperative Stores, Top of Chapel Hill, Huddersfield.’
The Wesleyans, perhaps in attempt to fulfill the Rev. Edward Brooke’s pledge offered £1000, although the building had cost £1700. The asking price was set at £1400 and the Wesleyans, who wished to convert it into a school, set about raising subscriptions with the encouragement of the Mercury, ‘We do hope that this commodious edifice will in future be devoted to a better purpose than it has unfortunately hitherto been.’ However ‘two friends’ arranged for the Hall to remain in Socialist hands. Deeds signed on 10 March the following year record a complex deal involving the transference of the land and buildings at Bath Street to Ben Stanley, hosier; John Brook, hatter and Arthur Tindal, gentleman and, on 19 March, to George Schofield, shoemaker of Moldgreen and Richard Smith Jackson. In the latter case a moiety or half share in the property was involved. On 5 October the following year a further moiety was transferred to George Schofield Jackson.(17)
George White a former Bradford woolcomber of Irish extraction delivered two leactures at the Hall of Science in July when ‘he drew a glowing picture of what the labouring classes might enjoy were they in a position to work for themselves and not for speculators and heartless capitalists’. White was greatly influenced by Socialism and was always ready, Holyoake recollected, to lend both political support and physical protection Socialist meetings. Having suffered several periods of imprisonment he died, almost forgotten, in Sheffield workhouse. (18)
At the 1844 congress only 18 branches were present and after acrimony about Harmony Hall Owen resigned and departed for the US. The decline is evident locally. In October Pitkethly Jnr reported that audiences for lectures, (such as C.Barker on the West Riding Auxiliary Rationalist Tract Society) were not very lare. On Monday evenings, classes for mutual instruction were held and since the teacher, Mr Philips, had moved to Rochdale, a schoolmaster was needed. A.Sutherland, whose name is not evident earlier was president and although he resigned the following May, perhaps indicative of some local difficulty, he was reelected. L.Pitkethly Jnr was still secretary but most of the other names on the Board of the branch were new. The Social Harmonic Band remained together and played at the celebration of the Sunday School’s sixth anniversary. (19)
As Harmony Hall sank under growing indebtedness and recriminations, friction also grew with the Chartist Land Society as opposition to the involvement of Owenites increased. Joseph Thornton, who had an experimental farm at Paddock which was visited by Chartists from as far as Oldham, was proposed for the board of directors of the Chartist Land Company in 1845. His expertise on agricultural matters was acknowledged by the inquiry into the Huddersfield Improvement Bill in 1848 which sought his opinions on the use of sewage fertilizer and the effect of industrial pollution on vegetation. Joshua Hobson also had a farm at Birkby, where one of his recorded achievements was the rearing of a 38 stone pig. Thornton’s obituary recalled ‘Harmonising with his views on Owenism, he was a great supporter of Feargus O’Connor in his land scheme, although along with Mr Pitkeithley, and others, he thought the scheme was scarcely a financial or sound one, and with a number of delegates met at Millbridge and drew up a recommendation to the founder to put the system on a sounder and more substantial basis’. The attempts of Thornton, Hobson and others to reorganise the Chartist Land Society met with suspicion. The Star reported in 1845,
‘The same post that brought us an account of the Dewsbury meeting also brought us letters from Dewsbury and Huddersfield expressing great alarm lest the Socialists should acquire the control of our land movement and also stating that many cunning devices were actively at work to ensure this object [but]… the Socialists for whom we have ever entertained the highest respect have not the slightest chance of getting control’. (20)
The following year the Rational Society, locally and nationally, was all but dead. Joshua Hobson’s wrote to G.J.Holyoake’s Reasoner including a report to the Rational Society congress from A.Sutherland ‘chiefly testifying to their willingness to contribute to the support of the Society, the continuity of which they desired.’ Prior to Congress a meeting was called to discuss to winding up of the Queenwood estate’s affairs. Refused access to Harmony Hall, the delegates, including Joshua Hobson met in a barn at nearby Rose Hill. His description in his credentials as ‘late member of the late Rational Society’ alarmed Holyoake that moves were afoot to liquidate the Society as well as the estate. The Central Board reaffirmed its existence in the Reasoner claiming that Hobson and John Ardill of Leeds was trying to assume their authority. Hobson played a prominent part at the Congress however succesfully proposing Ardill as the Society president. Pitkethly junior was also nominated to the Central Board which was mainly composed of men from the West Riding. By now the Central Board represented little real organisation. Only 187 members of the Society were on the books – none of them from Huddersfield. (21)
The Huddersfield branch was symptomatic of the Society as a whole. A brief report in the Leeds Mercury the following year served as its death notice:
‘SOCIAL INSTITUTION – Placards have been issued during the week announcing the sale of all the convertible property of the Huddersfield Socialists, connected with the Hall of Science at Bath Buildings. The building is also on sale. Since the failure of the speculation at “Harmony Hall” in Hampshire, Socialism in Huddersfield has fast declined and now that the income will not meet the expenditure its adherents have determined to wind up their concerns and dispose of the place.’ (22)
Along with the tea urns, cups and plates, the school equipment, fittings and furnishings, such as brass chandeliers and crimson window hangings there were more poignant momentos of the Hall’s occupants. A double violincello and bow ‘a first rate instrument’, presumably a relic of the Social Harmonic Band, and a ‘Community Flag, on Rollers’ were among the lots. The auctioneer, Ben Thornton, could not resist a few triumphalist jibes at the Socialists. A ‘Map of the World’ was qualifed by the comment ‘not the New Moral World’ and the 200 volumes of books were described as being ‘by various Authors, remarkable for their peculiar ideas’. The advert concluded ‘as the Whole of the above Effects and Books are brought to the Hammer under such Circumstances as the Proprietors cannot control, therefore not the least shadow of a reserve will be manifested.’ We can assume that this was one occasion on which an auctioneer was not too concerned about low bids affecting his commission.
In June 1846 Robert Cooper, the former Manchester socialist lecturer and author of The Infidel’s Text Book who had first spoke at Huddersfield in January 1839, moved to the town residing in one of the cottages adjoining the Hall of Science. He still continued lectures, touring London in May 1847. But Huddersfield’s vibrant political culture of the early decade had so receded that he wrote disconsolately to Owen,
‘I am engaged as Clerk to Messers Holliday & Co. manufacturing chemists of this town but the salary is so low and the firm so wanting in respectability that it would be sheer madness to remain longer than could be avoided. the people are so very illiterate that their is little society either for Mrs Cooper or myself. I exist here in a mental wilderness – Should you be passing this way I need not say how delighted we should be to spend a few hours with you…’ (23)
Cooper was also soon to suffer a change of landlord due to the Socialists’ misfortunes. On 17 September, George Brook and George Schofield, (described here as a cordwainer), leased the Hall of Science to Samuel Copeland Kell, merchant, William Hornblower, commercial merchant, Abel Hellawell, tinner and brazier along with dwelling houses occupied by David Jepson, Robert Cooper and George Thomas, for the annual rent of £52.10s.. (24)
When Holyoake visited Huddersfield in June 1848 the Socialists used the Christian Bretheren meeting room on Albion Street. Ironically, the leader of this sect Joseph Barker, had been a leading anti-socialist agitator in 1839 but was now an equally enthusiastic Chartist. Holyoake considered that ‘I have nowhere been more cordially greeted than in Huddersfield’ The ground had been prepared by the Chartist Chris Shackleton of Queensbury who at a camp meeting the previous Sunday had approvingly read extracts from Holyoake’s “English Republic”. After another meeting ‘several Chartists entered into prolonged debate and another Barkerite made a speech in which a vote of thanks to me was proposed – but as the proposal was made in genuine Yorkshire dialect, I was unable to comprehend it..’
Holyoake’s visit symbolises the transition from Owenite Socialism to the more heterogenous and less socially focused movement of Secularism which, for over a decade, was to revolve around Holyoake himself. Following the defeat of the Chartists’ last throw at having their petition accepted in 1848 and the ensuing attempted uprising and repression, the independent working class political movement sank into a disarray which Secularism reflected. There had also been rapid economic changes during the period of Socialist and Chartist agitation. Locally the size and number of mills had grown as weaving and spinning was increasingly mechanised. The factory system and modern industrialisation which the Socialists and Radicals had sought to halt, if not reverse, now seemed unassailable.
Appropriate to this new age the Hall of Science found itself within a stone’s throw of the railway line. The property passed out of the hands of George Brook and George Schofield to Samuel Beaumont, woolsalesmen and 14 other Baptist trustees in 1853. After extensive alterations the Hall was opened as a Baptist chapel in 1855. It ceased to be used as a Chapel in 1878 but remained as a schoolroom until bought by James Conacher for conversion into an organ building works in 1880. (25)
1.NMW 22 May 1841.
2.NMW 14 Aug 1841;NMW 23 Oct 1841
Lee E.Grugell George Jacob Holyoake: A Study in the Evolution of a Victorian Radical (Philadelphia 1976); Holyoake Vol.1. p.376.;NMW 20 Nov 1841
3. NMW 28 Jan 1842;NMW 19 Feb 1842;NMW 21 May 1842; LM 17 Sep 1842
4. LT 2 Jan ,9 Jan 10 Apr. 1841
5. NMW 14 Aug 1841; HG 25 Sep 1841
6.LM 25 Mar 1843; 28 Jan 1842
7. NMW 12 Mar 1842; NMW 26 Mar 1842;LT 22 Oct 1842.Vol.xi NMW 19 Nov 1842; LT 10 Nov 1842
8. LT 28 Jan 1843; NMW 18 Feb 1843 22 JanNS 25 Feb 1843;NMW 4 Mar 1843
NS 4 Mar 1843. Owen’s lectures.
9. NMW 11 Mar 1843NS 15 Jul,29 Jul,2 Dec 1843;
10. Manual of Field Gardening etc (Huddersfield 1845), see also the Nowell scrapbooks WYAS, Kirklees; Letter to Thornton in NS 15 Mar 1845..
11.NMW 4 Nov 1843;Investigator 23 Sep 1843; Movement No.9 10 Feb 1844.
12. NMW 28 Jan 1843; Vol xii NMW 5 Aug 1843NMW 30 Sep 1843
13. Harrison p.227.NMW 24 Jun 1843 25 members emigrated to America.NMW 3 Jun 1843
14.NMW 27 Apr, 24 Aug 1844; NS 13 Oct 1838; Royle Victorian infidels p.142 also says Honley had a Sunday School which at its height had more than 70 scholars.
15. NMW 9 Sep 1843NMW 18 Feb 1843; 1881.HEW 15 Jan:George Brook Snr obit.
1888 HEW 28 Jan: George Brook Jnr Obit age 57, educated at Harmony Hall, trained under father as dyer, entered partnership with James Armitage & Co. Built Larchfield mills , Colne Road.; See Garnett p.197-198 for Harmony school.
16.NS 27 Jan 1844,LM 27 Jan 1844.
17.LM 15 Jun 1844.LM 29 Jun 1844NMW 27 Jul 1844, WYAS Reg.Deeds PF:14:17/18;PK 554 588
18.NS 20 Jul 1844;Holyoake op.cit.p.404 n.
19.NMW 24 Aug 1844NMW 5 Oct 1844NMW 19 Oct 1844NMW 4 Jan 1845NMW 28 Jun 1845. The Branch board was composed of J.S.Carr, vice president; L.Pitkeithly jnr, secretary; A.Hylton collector No.1 District; G.Hanson, No.2 district; Jesse Dyson, No.3; E.Ainty, No. 4; R.Jackson, G.Wood, Jos Graham, Tom Wood, David Jepson, and James Butterworth.
20.NS 15 Nov,18 oct 1845;LM 18 Feb 1848;LM 21 Nov 1846.
HEW 8 Oct 1887. NS 15 Nov 1845
21.Reasoner 17 Jun,8 Jul,15 Jul 1846.
22.LM 6 Mar 1847.
23.Reasoner 3 Jun 1846; Utilitarian Record 1847 pp.50-52; Ow. Corr.1480 Cooper to Owen 10 Jul 1847.
24.WYAS RD. KC:311:18 Abel Hellawell was a former leading local supporter of Richard Carlile’s atheism.
25.Reasoner 12 Jul 1848. Holyoake commented in his report on the unintelligibility of the Yorkshire dialect comparing a speaker to an Ojibway indian.; WYAS RD:SC:366:440, Schofield to Beaumont 1853; The building was disposed of by Conacher’s in 1902 and after various uses was acquired by Grist Bros. for use as a warehouse until 1963 when its present occupants, Ramsay Clay, painters and decorators took over. Stanley Chadwick in Huddersfield Weekly Examiner 28 Sep, 5 Oct 1968.
LIGHT AND KNOWLEDGE
Socialism as a movement was gone but as an idea continued to flow through the bywaters of the working class movement. Its former adherents went their different ways politically as well as geographically. Joshua Hobson, through his involvement in municipal politics, began the familiar path trodden by some modern socialists to self importance and finally conservatism. As early as 1853, Edward Clayton a former Chartist rival of Hobson wrote to the Huddersfield Examiner, pointing out the hypocrisy of the former publisher of the New Moral World and reader and song leader at Hall Of Science now condemning the present MP for being a Socialist! Four years later “A Working Man” who said he used to subscribe his pence when Hobson was imprisoned for selling the Voice, read both the Northern Star and New Moral World when Hobson published them, sat at his feet in the Hall of Science when he preached Owen’s views and marched behind the Paddock Flag in the anti-Poor Law agitation inquired with irony ‘… What I want to know is whether this Mr Hobson who last week moved for the adoption of the Union Bastile be the same Joss Hobson as above named and if so what does he do for a living.?” (1)
John Hanson left the area to become a shopkeeper in Liverpool before falling on hard times and returning in old age to his daughter at Shepley. He died a staunch conservative and Anglican lay-preacher descrbed in his obituary in 1878 as ‘a great writer to the newspapers [he] had embraced all shades of politics from communism up to conservatism… He became a sceptic and fell into the black abyss of atheism and ultimately, by God’s grace, became a true believer.” His former colleague, Josiah Rhodes, also became a believer and ironicaly found himself arguing with the former opponent of Socialism, Joseph Barker, now a freethinker. After seeking consolation in error he had now found “love,joy,peace” through reading the bible ‘calmly – letting itself be its own interpreter.’ He remained a radical in politics supporting Huddersfield Reform Association in 1848, when he called on Chartists to seek an alliance with the middle classes for universal suffrage, and its revival,a decade later. (2)
The Pitkethlys also dropped out of politics. One of them appears in 1852 on a list of subscribers to the Committee of European Freedom. Pitkethly senior left Huddersfield sometime after this date and died suddenly in Manchester in 1858. Lawrence Pitkethly appears in the 1861 Post Office Commercial Directory as a ‘a waste dealer’ of 64 Upperhead Row and it is probably Lawrence Pitkethly Junior, described as a ‘dealer in hardware and scotch waste’ and an agent for Michie & Co. who was prosecuted for embezzlement of Scotch waste in1852, but acquitted. He also entered a partnership with Mary Tempest of Newmillerdam as a coal merchant, which was dissolved in 1861. (3)
Both George Brook senior and junior also appear among the subscribers to the Committee of European freedom. George Snr’s obituary in January 1881 described him as ‘a follower of Robert Owen, the Socialist leader, and was, up to his death, especially fond of his writings, which he perused as long as he could read.’ He was also a secularist and an ‘ardent educationalist’ on secular lines. His son survived him by only eight years and died aged 57, a successful worsted manufacturer and partner in Larchfield Mill, his business acumen evidently undamaged by his education at Harmony Hall. He was involved in the electoral reform movement in 1858 and in the tenant right agitation. (4)
Probably the most enduring heir of Owen, and one who ensured that the Socialist legacy was passed on, was Joseph Thornton. His obituary recorded how ‘Mr Thornton closely identified himself with Owenism and there was no one in Huddersfield who was better acquainted than he was with the views of Fourier, St Simon, Louis Blanc and John Bellers, in fact he was acquainted with a whole colony of men who arose out of the movement and who developed into men of considerable talent. He was a personal friend of Mr Mackintosh, who wrote The Theory of the Universe , Dr John Watts of Manchester and other social missionaries as they were named, and his attachment to Owenism was more firmly rivetted by the persecution which the Owenites had to undergo…’
Joseph Thornton also ‘formed an early attachment to Mr George Jacob Holyoake, also a social missionary, and his views on religious matters were to a large extent moulded by his contact with Mr Holyoake’ and a list of the people who visited him runs like a roll of honour of the secularist and republican movements. His key role was maintained by his takeover in 1852 of a temperance hotel at 21 New Street, which became simply known as ‘Thornton’s’ and gained the renown as being a Centre of Light and Knowledge outliving its’ patron’s death in 1887. Former companions of Joseph Thornton and “active supporters of Robert Owen and his New Moral World” S.Mitchell and W.Sykes from Paddock, by then aged 83 and 78, were still regular attenders at Thornton’s in 1898 when a veterans’ dinner was held. Another frequenter of Thornton’s until 1893 was the former Chartist William Armitage, who was interested in Owenism but held ‘aloof’ from it on theological matters. Only a few weeks after his death his friend and former secularist W.R.Croft, a Rashcliffe grocer, collapsed and died on the way home from an excited discussion at Thornton’s. (5)
Thornton’s was a forum for all sorts of theories on social, political and economic questions of which Owenism remained an important element. It is evident that there is continuity between the socialists of the 1840s and the revival of the labour movement fifty years later not only via the media of Thornton’s debating society but through the active Secularist, Republican and Co-operative movements.
The heirs of the Owenite tradition in the 1850s focussed around Holyoake’s journal the Reasoner, which initially proclaimed as its motto: ‘Communistic in Social Economy – Utilitarian in Morals – Republican in Politics and Anti-theological in Religion.’ However its communism was not expressed by the establishment of communities but in a more nebulous idea of social and economic progress including social reforms and co-operation. The Reasoner and the secularist movement which gathered around it became a melting pot for a wide range of philosophies and political theories in which the rationalist, freethought aspect was the main common factor.
There was little activity in Huddersfield in the years succeeding Holyoake’s visit in 1848. Small subscriptions from anonymous donors were sent to the Reasoner fund in 1850 including in 6d. sent in January by Uriah Studdard, a thirty year old Drayman and porter of Manchester Road, from the ‘Composition Class, Huddersfield’. I January he forwarded 5s. to the propaganda fund from himself and ‘friends of progress’ in the town, followed in February by a subscription to ‘Mr Holyoake’s History’. The next January the Reasoner received donations via Studdard from ‘Members of Mr Robert Cooper’s class: Huddersfield’. Studdard was also a collector of Subscriptions for European Freedom in support of continental republicans particularly Kossuth and Mazzini. (6)
George Searle Philips of West Parade, was on the Central Committee of the Friends of European Freedom. Since 1846 he had been secretary of Huddersfield Mechanics Insitute, had in 1846 co-edited F.R.Lees’ literary, philosophical and theological review the Truth Seeker and in 1848 contributed to the Peoples’ Press. He was appointed lecturer of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanic’s Institutes and Literary Institutes in 1853 and, in January of the following year, feeling ‘that there is other work to be done abroad than that which I am now doing’ wrote to Holyoake offering his lecturing and literary talents to the secularist movement. He wished to see Secular Mechanics Institutes in every town where there were secularists to help draw in new support. Admitting to his ‘own peculiar pantheistic opinions’ he thought that would ‘be no difficulty’. Holyoake’s reply is not recorded but even if ‘January Searle’ remained a crypto-secularist he must have assisted the movement in the town. (7)
Throughout 1852 the local secularists built up the local organisation with Joseph Bowker playing a leading role. Bowker, 40, a former cloth dresser who had been first a Methodist, then a Barkerite and Chartist, had suffered two years imprisonment for sedition after 1848 and had been converted to secularism by the religious works he had read in gaol. A comrade ‘A.C.’ recollected ‘We then entered fully into the defence and advocacy of Secularism, by lectures, debates, out-door and country camp meetings, and conferences. We went regularly into the country, and passed most happy hours in conversational meetings at Lockwood, Paddock, Holmfirth, Slaithwaite and High Burton.’ Bowker eked out a living as a ‘Book canvasser’ travelling a circuit of twenty miles around Huddersfield hawking the ‘works of Professor Newman, Theodore Parker and authors on the side of Religious Progress as well as those of the first authors of the day’. (8)
Another leading secularist was Charles Ogden, a bookseller, newsagent, stationer and printer at John William Street, Huddersfield, who advertised as ‘ Agent for the Reasoner and all publications on the side of freethought’ . In 1853 he received a visit at his newsagents shop from a clergyman who warned him against selling the Reasoner. Despite such harassment it was reported from Huddersfield that ‘the cause is prospering and numbers of respectable and influential “young men” have joined us who will aid us both with their means and their pens’ and the movement received a further boost in October when Holyoake spoke in the town at a meeting chaired by Bowker. The following week the Reasoner announced the existence of the Athenaeum Literary and Secular Society of Huddersfield, which had the objectives of debates, lectures, essays and tracts to ‘lay bare long-practised superstitions’ and the creation of ‘a bond of union among lovers of freethought in the town and neighbourhood’. It was to be open to all except ‘the rooms of this society will not be made the meeting place and receptacle for a number of cigar-smoking young men, or, on the other hand, no fellowship or prayer meetings will be allowed, as is the practice of debating societies in the town.'(9)
Huddersfield and Slaithwaite were represented at the Secular Conference at Stockport on 2 July 1854 by Joseph Bamford. Huddersfield secularists now met weekly at Thornton’s Temperance Hotel. About 150 people in the town and neighbourhood took the Reasoner and it was claimed that the public was generally favourable to secularism. Huddersfield suggested that a district fund for the support of missionaries was established. There were a few Secularists in the Slaithwaite area and there had been an attempted case of victimisation by a Church minister who objected to the librarian presenting three volumes of the ‘Cabinet of Reason’ to the Mechanic’s Institute library. He had tried to get the employer of the donor to discharge him ‘A certain noble earl was to be applied to influence the employer who, however, acted with gentlemanly independence.’ (10)
A ‘moving spirit’, both in Huddersfield and throughout Yorkshire, was twenty year old William H.Johnson, assistant editor of the Yorkshire Tribune which, in October 1855, published his plan for the revival of movement. Written in the form of an open letter to Holyoake this was reprinted in the Reasoner. ‘Is the immortal Tom Paine to be no more? Or is the venerable Owen to be laid on the forgotten shelf with the lion-hearted Carlile?’ he asked, ‘No! there is power yet in Atheism.’ He suggested that funds be raised by a levy on secularists and a bazaar selling items contributed by the “wives and daughters of Secularists” in order to finance missionaries. He certainly saw the movement as a continuation of Socialism but thought it had lost its sense of purpose ‘Robert Owen outlives his scheme and has lost an immortality by gaining a few short years of life. Our party, instead of dying out when attacked by the Bishop of Exeter in 1839, and by the imprisonments of 1842-4, has lived until it is alike uncared for and unknown…we fare no better in building up our glorious Socialism. Our destiny seems to consist of nothing but in preparing men for other spheres of action.’ He called on the secularists to clarify their objectives ‘Have we not Owen’s Socialism? Are we not agreed in the main, with his communism? Then why not adopt it? …the simple statement of Socialistic principles would be sufficient to swamp their opponents into chaos in the eyes of reasonable men.’ (11)
Johnson had personal experience of one of the diversions faced by secularists when, in July, David Urquhart visited Huddersfield to seek support for his Foreign Affairs Committee, the main objective of which was to spread anti-Russian propaganda. Urquhart was introduced by his ally the former Sheffield Socialist Isaac Ironside. Johnson as requested quickly called a meeting of secularists who were told by Urquhart that Mazzini was in fact a Russian agent. Promising further information he returned to the town a fortnight later and someone suggested a walk ‘We sallied forth,’ wrote Johnson, ‘ determined to surmount the Roman fortification of Castle Hill, and the treason of the ex-triumvir. Mr U. began in a clear, distinct manner: and betwixt every ‘whiff’ of his cigar we heard proofs sufficient to convict a Strafford. But as the ascent of the Hill became more painful, so did the ‘proofs’ grow ‘small and beautifully less’. A shortlived Foreign Affairs Committee was nevertheless set up in the town but by October Johnson had disassociated himself from it. (12)
On the 12 November Johnson announced that he was leaving Huddersfield for Blackburn, necessitating his resignation as secretary of Robert Cooper’s Testimonial fund, established by Yorkshire secularists to show their appreciation to the veteran infidel. Joseph Thornton at the Temperance Hotel was general treasurer and Bowker took over Johnson’s secretaryship. Cooper had maintained his links with the town, in July 1854 speaking at Huddersfield and Holmfirth and provoking a series of anti-secularist lectures in August. The presentation was made at Halifax on 27 January following a ‘service’ to mark Tom Paine’s birthday. Bowker read the address to Cooper recognising his ‘great and disinterested services in the cause of Free Inquiry’, before handing him a purse of £340. Cooper’s popularity in the movement contrasts sharply with his despondency less than a decade before when he had complained to Owen about his isolation in Huddersfield. (13)
The following month Bowker left Huddersfield to take up a lecturing post with the Glasgow Eclectic Association, arranging for his wife ,Mary and two small children to join him. On 19 June, just before she arrived, Joseph died of presumed heart disease ‘He was a man evidently of robust frame originally but whose constitution was suddenly shattered by poverty and physical suffering. The too successful result of priestly persecution made him a proscribed man in Huddersfield and it was with the greatest difficulty he could get employment in consequence of his heterodoxy.’ (14)
Within the space of a few months Huddersfield was deprived of its leading lights in Johnson and Bowker. Two rank and file members were also lost within weeks of each other in 1855. Henry Haigh of Lane Dyehouse died aged only 37 leaving in poverty a wife and six children, the eldest of which was earning only 2s a week. He was both a teetotaler and vegetarian and ‘in the principles of Secularism he found all his heart’s desire – freedom, virtue and progress.’ The other deceased, Job Armitage of Berry Brow, formerly a Methodist preacher, was also a teetotaller. (15)
Local secularism had some compensation for its losses in 1855 with the formation of the West Riding Secular Union. In June 1856 Jonathan Hinchliffe of Holmfirth was co-opted onto the WRSU committee which also decided to print a circular announcing its ‘Constitution and Objects.’ Published in the Reasoner of 3 August these called for ‘The inculcation of Positive philosophy’ and ‘Devising secular plans for the improvement of humankind’ by means of camp meetings, lectures, tracts, Secularist Sunday-schools and the formation of ‘Freethought Libraries’. Watts Balmforth from Lockwood, Joseph Bamford, Slaithwaite and Jonathon Hinchcliffe and Uriah Langley of Holmfirth were on the committee, which met at different venues in west Yorkshire including, for the first recorded time on 14 December 1856, Thornton’s. (16)
Funds were collected for a ‘mission’ by Holyoake to the West Riding, David Woffenden of Lockwood receiving pledges from supporters in the Huddersfield district at his bookstall in the Market Place. Lectures were arranged at the Christian Bretheren meeting rooms, Albion St, on 14 and 15 January 1857, the Druid’s Hall, Holmfirth on 22nd and 23rd and at Honley on the 25th. Holyoake’s himself gave a graphic account of his visit in the Reasoner:
“If Dewsbury was drizzled, Holmfirth was drenched. Much has been said about the great flood at Holmfirth. Holmfirth is always in flood, and if washed away a better Holmfirth could be built… The Druids’ Hall, where the lectures where held, is however a pleasant place, and the number of persons present showed that no amount of drenching would wash the spirit out of the Holmfirth people. A young man, a Wesleyan, who always shut his eyes when he opened his mouth, who looked asleep, but was uncomfortably awake, made many somnolent comments. I am sorry a daguerreotype of the Druids’ Hall during the debates cannot accompany this report.
But the Honley Foresters’ Hall on Sunday night was the pleasantest meeting of all. Mr Jaggars [sic], an able chairman, who presided at Holmfirth, opened the meeting. The friends had garlanded the Hall, and a full assembly of men, women and rosy-faced children, garnished it and graced it. The chief opponent was a quiet, good natured, evangelically-given man, who said he had prayed until Heaven had sent him (he did not know how) the very respectable suit of clothes in which he then stood up… the meeting agreed with the remark, that the world ought to be so arranged that an honest industrious mechanic could command clothes and competence without having recourse to evangelical mendicancy.
The next morning I was entertained at a cheerful, bright-fired breakfast, graced by women and children, by half past six o’clock, that some present might join in it, before going to the mills.” (17)
Local organisation was improving and bazaar contributions in April included ‘From Friends in Holmfirth, Honley and Berry Brow – 10 yards of best woollen cloths of different patterns.’ and ‘ A manual of Photographic Chemistry.’
To help develop closer links between local supporters Joseph Jaggar of Upper Fold, Honley proposed a Sunday excursion of Honley and Holmfirth Secularists to Woodhead or Dunford Bridge. David Woffenden pledged support from Huddersfield and it was agreed to visit Salterbrook on 5 July. Over 100 Secularists from Huddersfield, Honley and Holmfirth join those from Stockport, Ashton, Dukinfield, Stalybridge, Hyde and Mottram at 10 am. Jaggar was elected chairman and the proceedings were opened with a hymn on ‘Friendship’ from the Social Hymn Book followed by speeches.
“Though prevented by the occasional sudden and heavy showers from rambling over and among the hills, we spent a very pleasant day together. We think we are the first society of Secularists in the provinces who have taken advantage of the facilities afforded by the railway companies in issuing day trip return tickets at one ordinary fare to parties numbering ten or more.” (18)
The success of this camp meeting was followed up by another on 6 September at Bills O’ Jacks on Saddleworth Moor between Holmfirth and Greenfield. Around a thousand secularists and friends from both sides of the Pennines arived in 43 carts and carriages including some from Holmfirth, Honley, Huddersfield, Meltham, Netherton, Marsden, Longwood and Slaithwaite, accompanied by Holmfirth Teperance Band. A speaker from London was succeeded by Jaggar and others reciting poems and essays, including one on ‘Death’ by Whitehead of Holmfirth, described as ‘a Freethinker for the last half- century.’ In June 1858 over 3,000 took part in an excursion to Hollingworth Lake near Littleborough, where Thornton and Woffenden of Huddersfield were elected onto the ‘field committee’. (19)
In 1860 Thornton, Jaggar and W.R.Croft were the local members on a committee to organise a convention in Huddersfield in May and a great camp meeting was held on Castle Hill on the last Sunday in July 1860 which attracted around 6,000 people to the day’s events of speeches, picnicking and ‘eager discussion’. Again, taking advantage of excursion tickets numbers came from Sheffield, Oldham , Halifax and elsewhere. As well as Holyoake, Austen Holyoake and Joseph Barker, the speakers included, ‘Iconoclast’, Charles Bradlaugh. In January of the following year he returned to the district to deliver a series of leactures at Holmfirth Druids’ Hall. Bradlaugh was emerging as the leading figure in British secularism, while Holyoake was involved less on public platforms. Socialism became even more diluted in the freethought movement of the 1860s. Owen himself died in 1858 and no-one emerged to take up his torch. The utilitarian elements in Owen’s thought outlived the communistic ones. The concept of social change became increasingly submerged in Republican ideas which retained some socialistic elements as co-operation and land nationalisation. It was this secularist, Republican tradition which acted as a conduit of Owenite Socialism into the Socialist revival in the labour movement of the 1880s and 90s. (20)
1. HE 2 Jul 1853;HE 25 Dec 1857; also see HEW 12 Aug 1871. for continuity of Paddock flag tradition – letter re bridge over goit at Paddock, signed “The Black Flag of Paddock”.
2.HWN 19 Jan 1878, John Hanson;HE 10 Aug 1861;LM 10 Jun 1848; HE 24 Dec 1858
3.Reasoner 8 Dec 1852;HC 10 Jan 1852;HC 5 Jun 1858; HE 13 Apr 1861.Owen Balmforth said he could remember from his childhood Lawrence Pitkethly as ‘a tall, spare man, of refined and gentlemanly demeanour’. If he was member of Huddersfield Industrial Society, formed in 1860, then this must be the younger Pitkethly. Balmforth.op.cit.p 29
4.HEW 15 Jan 1881; HEW 28 Jan 1888; HE 24 Dec 18 1858.
5. HEW 8 Oct 1887;HWN 8 Oct 1887; HEW 22 Oct 1898.S>Mitchell died in 1900. His obituary described him as a Socialist , Chartist and admirer of Holyoake and Bradlaugh. Begining work as a handloom weaver’s bobbin winder and drawboy he entered Starkey’s factory at the age of 10 and became a cloth finisher, leaving in 1838. He subsequently became a barber and then,in 1854 a grocer. HEW 25 Aug 1900; HEW 3 Feb 1894;HEW 2 Dec.1893.obit. An account of the literary and recreational activities at Thornton’s was compiled by Parkin’s Almanac when it closed in 1925 (thanks to Leslie Kipling for this information). For an account of Thornton’s see: https://undergroundhistories.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/thorntons-temperance-hotel/
6. Reasoner 2 Jan 1850;15 jan 1851; 7 Jan 1852; 8 Dec.1852
7.HLHL Bibliography and cuttings collections, Reasoner 26 Apr 1848;10 Nov 1852; CUL , Holyoake
Letters 631, G.S,Philips to Holyoake 12 Jan 1854. His pantheism is evident in the joy and reverence for nature expressed in both the Truth Seeker, (1846-47) and Walks Around Huddesfield (Huddersfield 1848)
8. Reasoner 10 Feb; 20 July 1856: 1 Nov 1853
9. Reasoner,17 Sep,12 Oct, 19 Oct 1853: HE 15 Oct 1853.
10.Reasoner 23 Jul 1854
11. Reasoner 25 Nov,2 Dec 1855.
12.Reasoner 4 Nov 1855
13. Reasoner25 Nov.1855; HE 22 and 29 Jul 1854; 10 Feb 1856 W.H.Johnson was at the centre of a
controvery when he revealed that he was told in confidence by Frederick Rowland Young, after a lecture at the Temperance Hotel, that Holyoake had told Young not to publish Cooper’s works – particularly Infidel’s Text Book.. Young clarified his statement by saying he was not instructed but there was reluctance to publish Cooper. Reasoner 30 Nov.1856).
14. Reasoner 6 Jul;20 Jul 1856
15.Reasoner 21 Oct 1855.
16. Reasoner 3 Aug 1856;8 Jul; 14 Oct 1857
17.David Woffenden born Sude Hill 1813 died 1892,HEW 8 Oct 1892.Woofenden was also a promoter of the Eight Hours campaign in 1863 Reasoner 11 Jan;22 Feb 1857
18. Reasoner 12 May,32 May,14 Jun,15 July R.29 July 1857.
19. Reasoner 16 Sep 1857; 7 Jul 1858; HE 4 Sep 1858, ‘Annual’ secularist meeting at Bills O’Jacks. Speech by W.H.Johnson, editor of the Investigator.
20.Balmforth op.cit pp28-29; HE 4 Aug 1860;HE 26 Jan, 2 Feb 1861.A Robert Owen Memorial Subscription fund was established which, in 1860 attracted subscriptions from Huddersfield and Honley..
FROM SECULARISM TO SOCIALISM
The popularity of Republicanism among some workers and the way it formed a bridge between Owenism and the modern labour movement is evident in one Colne Valley family. Joseph Pogson, a boot and shoemaker of Lingards, named two of his sons, born in 1849 and 1851, Emmett and Kossuth after the Irish republican leader of 1803 and the Hungarian hero of the 1848 revolution against the Austrian empire. Kossuth, who became an operative cotton spinner, was the first treasurer of Colne Valley Labour Union formed in 1891. Emmett, also a spinner, was arrested as a picket during the long Slaithwaite Spinning Co. strike in 1896. Arrested with him was Louis Blanc Pogson born in 1861 and named by his father, cotton spinner David Pogson, after the French Socialist. David’s other son bore the name of the Italian republican Orsini, renowned for the attempted assassination of Emperor Napoleon III in 1858. (1)
This continuity is even more apparent in the part played by the Balmforths. Watts Balmforth, a cloth finisher of Lockwood (aged 25 in 1851), was on the committee of the West Riding Secular Union by 1858. His socialist sympathies were demonstrated by his naming of a son born in 1855, Owen. Watts still associated with former Owenites since young Owen met Edward Lunn, recollecting the curious detail that he had a cork leg. Edward Lunn’s copy of the Social Hymn Book also came into his possession. Owen attended Huddersfield Secular Sunday School, established in 1862 under the superintendant, David France, a former Owenite who also appears on the list of subscribers for European Freedom in 1852 and the Secular Propaganda Fund in 1854. In 1865 the school was conducted in Senior’s School Room in East Parade. Another pupil, Ben Turner, whose family moved into Huddersfield from a hamlet above Holmfirth, later became leader of the Textile Workers Union. He remembered speakers such as Holyoake, Bradlaugh, Charles Watts, Mrs Besant and Edward Aveling and the discussion of topics such as the land question, Republicanism, home rule and pensions. (2)
Benefitting from this intensive political education, Owen Balmforth was still only in his teens when he became secretary of the Huddersfield and District Republican Clubs by 1873. The previous year when Charles Watts, Bradlaugh’s co-editor on the National Reformer, lectured at Lockwood on “American Republicanism and English Monarchy” Owen’s younger brother by six years, Ramsden, also a Secular Sunday School scholar, gave the recitations “Unfurl the Flag of Liberty” and “France Betrayed”. The Republican clubs also discussed their policy of land nationalisation, meeting at Cambridge Temperence Hall in 1875 for a lecture by the Rev.J.K.Applebee of Bolton on the Land question and Owen Balmforth spoke at Milnsbridge Liberal Club the following year on the same topic. (3)
It is not clear how far the local Republican Club was the Secular Society under another name since the inspiration for both came primarily from Bradlaugh. Watts and Bradlaugh returned to Huddersfield in 1874 to lead a “great freethought Demonstration” at Castle Hill which attracted “a very large assembly of people” to mark the revival of the National Secular Society. Although Owen Balmforth attacked him for dismissing Charles Watts from the National Reformer in 1877, Bradlaugh appears to have maintained local support, visiting the town in 1877, 1878 and each year from 1882 to 1885. In 1884 he joined Owen Balmforth and other local Radicals and Liberals on one of the platforms at a Great Reform Demonstration. (4)
Like the Owenites, the Secularists met with some obstruction. In 1882 they were banned from using borough premises and D.F.E.Sykes joined Owen Balmforth at a protest meeting to demand that Secularists be permitted to use the Town Hall. The following year the Sunday School had to leave its East Parade premises but survived for three more years. To try and become self reliant the Secularists proposed to build their own hall but the owner of all the ground in the town, J.W.Ramsden refused to grant a plot. A letter from a Secularist to the Examiner proposed that the only solution to such injustice was land nationalisation ‘Socialism it may be, but give it whatever name you like, it is a doctrine which has received a stimulus from the hands of Sir John and he, by refusing our party building ground has driven one more nail in the coffin of landlordism.” (5)
D.F.E. Sykes, a solicitor and editor of the radical Northern Pioneer, was ruined when many of his clients deserted him for supporting the weavers strike of the following year. With his departure from the area Secularism lost a valuable ally. One of Sykes’ dear causes, which brought both Republicanism and land nationalisation to the centre of the political arena was Ireland. Owen Balmforth was also prominent in this struggle speaking at an open air meeting in 1886 which attracted 5000 people, many of them Irish, and the following year writing to the Examiner in support of Home Rule. In 1887 he defended the right of the Junior Liberal Association to sing God Save Ireland. against criticism by the leading local Unionist and millowner Thomas P.Crosland. Two years later Watts Balmforth also wrote a reply to Crosland refuting the claim that coercion in Ireland was not so severe as under Gladstone’s government. (6)
As some secularists were led via republicanism, the land question and Ireland into support for the radical wing of the Liberal Party for others it led into the resurrected Socialist movement. At national level two of Bradlaugh’s closest collaborators, Annie Besant and Edward Aveling (who married Marx’s daughter, Eleanor) broke with Secularism to join the Fabian Society and Socialist League respectively. In 1886 an anonymous letter from Ben Turner appeared in the Huddersfield Examiner advocating support for Socialism and recommending the reading of the works of Besant, Aveling, Rev.Headlam and William Morris. In 1887 Morris himself appeared at the at Victoria Hall to speak on Socialism. On the platform were both Owen Balmforth and George Thomson of Woodhouse Mills, Deighton, a leading co-operator who came to run his mill like a modest New Lanark introducing a committee of management, pensions, sick pay, holiday pay and profit sharing. Ironically Morris’s visit to herald the new Socialism came only a few weeks after one of the main local links with Owenite socialism was broken by the death of Joseph Thornton. (7)
But it was not Owen Balmforth but Ramsden who was to commit himself to the reborn Socialist movement. In 1891 he spoke at the Friendly and Trades Societies Club ‘on behalf of the Huddersfield Fabian Society on the theme ‘The Religion of Socialism’ in which ‘He strongly condemned the evil result and waste of labour arising from the base system of competition’. He spoke to the infant Colne Valley Labour Union at Golcar in the same year, was present at the opening of Milnsbridge Labour Club in 1892 and chaired the opening of Salford and Lockwood Labour Club in 1893, Tom Mann being the guest at both ceremonies. Ramsden was also elected as Huddersfield Labour Union representative onto the School Board and chaired a meeting of the Labour Union at the Armoury in 1892 on labour representation. He had abandoned the teachings learned at the Secular Sunday School and, according to ‘Snapshots’ in the Yorkshire Factory Times , ‘ere it broke up Ramsden had developed into a student of Christianity, left the co-op to go to college and later on got into the Unitarian ministry’. As a minister he was fined 20s for not having his child vaccinated despite pleading that he was a ‘ conscientious objector.’ A year later it was reported that Ramsden Balmforth ‘old co-operator, trade union and labour man’ had departed to Cape Town ‘for his health’s sake’. The first sermon he delivered at the Free Protestant Chapel, Cape Town, was on ‘Fellowship’. He retained his support for the labour movement opposing both the British war against the Boers and the repression of the railway strike in 1914. (8)
Owen remained allied with the Liberal Party but with strong associations with the co-operative and trade union movement. He was prosecuted by some members of the Co-operative Society in 1891 for proposing a payment of £20 to the Manningham Mill strikers which opponents said was ultra vires. However, while Ramsden was joining celebrations at the opening of Labour Clubs, Owen appeared at Liberal Clubs, such as the 1891 bazaar at Rashcliffe along with the old radical and secularist W.R.Croft. He was still sympathetic enough to address Labour Club meetings and write letters to the press in support of the labour movement. (9)
When Owen wrote his fifty years commemorative history of Huddersfield Industrial Society ltd in 1910 he traced the roots of local co-operation back to the Owenite co-operators and Socialists. He was clearly proud of being heir to a continuous tradition and is fond of referring to his personal links with the Owenite generation. Ramsden Balmforth also included Owen amongst his pantheon of great nineteenth century social reformers. Through the bywaters of secularism, republicanism and co-operation the currents of Owenite thought had flowed, sometimes mingling, sometimes submerged to flow into the wellspring of twentieth century Socialism.
1.Census 1861, Inghead, Lingards;HEW 25 Jul 1896, Census 1881
2.Census 1851, Lockwood.Some other local adherents to Secularism are known from a list of subscribers to the Reasoner fund in 1858:
Honley: Jaggar, France and Green.AL; Henry Sykes: Miss Jaggar, Wm Hallas: James France; John Vickerman; Edward Ainley; Benjamin Shaw: Edwin Green; George Sykes; Henry France.(E.Ainley may be the E.Ainty on the central board of Huddersfield Rational Society in 1844.
Holmfirth: Uriah Langley; James Lockwood; Eliza Parkin.Reasoner 29 Aug 1858; Reasoner 12 Feb 1854. The Secular Propaganda Fund includes W.B.Post, Allan Shaw (of Willow Lane) J.Oldfield, H.Haigh, Wm Broadhead, A.Maude, D.Marsden, J.Goddard, A.Hilton, J.Gill, J.Learoyd, J.Pilling (Reasoner 22 Jan 1854) George Green, Honley, S.Maffin, Berry Brow; David France and John Moorhouse, Primrose Hill; S.Bidde and Uriah Studdard.
Owen Balmforth The Huddersfield Industrial Society limited: History of Fifty Years’ Progress 1860-1910. Manchester 1910; Royle, Radicals… p321-323. Stanley Chadwick,’Huddersfield Republicans had Future Mayor as Secretary’ HED 6 Oct 1967; Owen Balmforth, obituary HEW 4 Feb 1922 this describes Watts Balmforth as a handloom weaver.
3.HEW 27 Apr 1872;HEW 23 Aug 1873;1875 HEW 6 Mar 1875; HEW 15 Apr 1876
4. HEW 11 Jul 1874;HEW 15 Sep 1877; HEW 16 Mar 1878 Bradlaugh and Annie Besant; HEW 16 Sep 1882; HEW 29 Aug 1883; HEW 18 Oct 1884;HEW 17 Oct 1885.
5.HEW 9 Sep;23 Sep 1882;HEW 24 Aug 1886.
6.HEW 5 Jun 1886;HEW 5 Feb 1887;HEW 14 Apr 1888;HEW 9 Mar 1889.
7.HED 31 Mar 1886; B.Turner About Myself p 53; HEW 13 Nov 1888, George Thomson was also a delegate at the 1886 co-operative conference at Hebden Bridge, for Woodhouse mill see HEW 18 Feb 1893;YFT 13 Mar,20 Mar 1908,A Co-operative Conference was held at the mill in 1887 HEW 22 Jan.
8. HEW 7 Feb,HEW 12 Dec 1891;HEW 12 dec 1891: HEW 13 Aug 1892,HEW 18 Mar 1893;HEW 9 Apr 1892; YFT 26 Jun 1896,HEW 25 Jan 1896;YFT 13 Aug 1897;HEW 28 Oct1900; HEW 9 Mar 1901;Worker 14 Feb 1914.
9.HEW 27 Jun; 31 Oct 1891 ; David Clark Colne Valley-Radicalism to Socialism (Longman 1981) p.34 at Slaithwaite on ‘An Evening with Ruskin’;HEW 13 Feb 1892 Owen wrote a letter to back up the claim of Joe Dyson at a Marsden meeting that there were three million paupers in England.
Owen Balmforth op.cit, Ramsden Balmforth The New Reformation and its relation to Moral and Social Problems (London 1893) p.133 ‘Owen though right in his economic principles, not only miscalculated the forces against which he had to contend, he mistook the means by which those forces were to be overcome…’ He elaborates on his analysis in Some Social and Political Reformers of the Nineteenth Century (London 1912), criticising the idea of isolated communities .p86
‘The world is ours, civilisation is ours, its value is created by the whole of the people, its mineral wealth is stored by Nature herself – these are the heritage of all the ages and we should all be sharers of that inheritence.’ – and Socialism had to come by common consent.
(First Published in pamphlet form 1993 – since that time the building has been repainted a light blue colour and the inscription on the pediment is even harder to discern)