Posts Tagged ‘1880s’

1884 would appear to have been a landmark year, which would prove to be the spark for further developments in the later 1880s and 1890s:

  • Rev. Alexander Webster moved from Glasgow to Aberdeen and he was to play a key part in influencing young socialists like James Leatham and Harry Hill Duncan (July)
  • 3rd Reform Act demonstration with the biggest procession (c.50,000) since the time of the 1st Reform Act in 1832 (August)
  • British Trades Union Congress in Aberdeen, with a notable speech by Rev. Alexander Webster (September)
  • Women delegates on Aberdeen Trades Union Council representing the Work-women’s Protective and Benefit Society (October)
  • Aberdeen Radical Association formed (November)
  • Working men elected to town council (November)

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1884 Reform ActI love personal acts of rebellion, no matter how small. So as I find stories on my research travels I will post them under ‘Daily acts of rebellion’. Number 3 in this series is from the Franchise Bill demonstration on the 16th August 1884. This was the biggest procession since the 1832 Reform Act demonstration, with a reported 50,000 people marching against the actions of the House of Lords, after they had blocked the progress of the reform bill. The procession included the Reformers of 1832, the Chartists of 1846, the trades council, the individual trades and various Liberal Party organisations. The published descriptions of the procession are extremely detailed, describing each trade and the banners and mottoes they carried:

the brass finishers: ‘They carried…a large banner bearing the inscription “The Death Knell of Hereditary Legislators”‘.

the rope and sailmakers: ‘They did not shrink from hinting that an application of the rope’s end to the members of the House of Lords might have a beneficial effect’.

the plasterers: ‘ …demanded “Liberty and the people’s rights”‘.

Charles Napier’s workers: ‘A dead horse was placed in a cart labelled the House of Lords, and a knacker-man was represented as having newly slaughtered the animal. He held in his hand an axe, from which was dripping blood’…Following this cart was a number of cadger horses marked dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, barons, etc.’.

(source: The Franchise Bill Demonstration at Aberdeen on Saturday 16th August, 1884 (Aberdeen, 1884).

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On my research travels I am picking up those events which are ‘1sts’ for Aberdeen. Whether these events were 1st in Scotland or even Britain is another case. Aberdeen was usually late to the party…

  • Working class men nominated by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and elected to the city council: 1884, G. Macconnochie and J. Forbes
  • British Trade Union Congress held in Aberdeen: 1884
  • Women delegates on Aberdeen Trades Union Council: 1884, Jemima Moir and Mrs Slessor representing the Work-women’s Protective and Benefit Society
  • Working class men nominated by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and elected to the school board: 1885
  • Socialist publishing press: 1889, James Leatham
  • May Day march: 1890
  • Anarchist group: 1891, Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation, later named Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group
  • Aberdeen South Labour General Election candidate (as Scottish United Trades Councils Labour Party): 1892, Henry Hyde Champion
  • Aberdeen North Labour General Election candidate (as Independent Labour): 1895, John Lincoln Mahon
  • Social Democratic Federation councillor: 1895, William Cooper, Woodside
  • Independent Labour Party General Election candidate: 1896, Tom Mann, Aberdeen North
  • Scottish Trade Union Congress held in Aberdeen: 1898
  • President of Scottish Trade Union Congress: 1898, John Keir, President of Aberdeen Trades Union Council
  • Social Democratic Federation General Election candidate: 1906, Tom Kennedy, Aberdeen North
  • Labour Party MP (Aberdeen North): 1918, Frank Rose
  • Communist Party General Election candidate: 1928, Aitken Ferguson, Aberdeen North
  • Labour Party majority on the city council: 1945
  • Communist Party councillor: 1945, St Clement’s ward, Tom Baxter (although there had been a self proclaimed Bolsehevist, Arthur Fraser Macintosh, in Torry in 1919)
  • Labour Party MP (Aberdeen South): 1966, Donald Dewar
  • Officer of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (General Secretary/Deputy General Secretary): 1969 – 1975 and 1975 – 1986, James Milne, former President of Aberdeen Trades Union Council, first as Deputy then as General Secretary.

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Following the failure to include women in the enlargement of the electorate in the Second Reform Bill of 1867, a National Society for Women’s Suffrage was forrned in London, by Lydia Becker. Soon a branch in Edinburgh was established with further branches in Glasgow and Aberdeen by 1871. The leaders of the Edinburgh branch included Priscilla Bright McLaren (President) and Eliza Wigham (who was a Secretary and who was a veteran of the Edinburgh Ladies’ Emancipation Society in the 1830s/1840s).

An Aberdeen branch was formed in April 1871, following a public meeting in the Music Hall to support claims of women householders, with Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson speaking (the pioneering woman doctor and sister of Millicent Garrett Fawcett). Also on the platform were William Lindsay (bookseller and veteran of many local campaigns), Alexander Bain, University of Aberdeen Professor of Logic and Rhetoric (an active supporter of women’s rights and political reform more widely), and also his wife. She was to become Secretary of the new branch and was later a leading light in the Aberdeen Ladies’ Educational Association.

For many years after the 1870s there continued to be speakers coming to Aberdeen (such as Lydia Becker) and local meetings in the homes of members. It is not clear how long the Aberdeen Society branch was active for, yet a continuing organisation, with the name Aberdeen Women’s Suffrage Association, was certainly operating in c.1900. The National Society remained active throughout the 19th century and after splits in the organisation emerged as the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1897.

Related entries: National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Aberdeen) and William Lindsay.

References: Aberdeen Journal, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866 – 1928 (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2001), The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey (Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge, London, 2006), A Guid Cause: the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland (Leah Leneman, Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, 1991) and Bajanellas and Semilinas: Aberdeen University and the Education of Women 1860 – 1920 (Lindy Moore, Aberdeen University Press, 1991).

Sources: Archives of the national body are held at the Women’s Library, London School of Economics.

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William Leslie was born in Elgin and his father Alexander was a shoemaker. Prior to World War One, from 1908 – 1913, he was a professional footballer playing for Elgin City and Manchester City. He was a carpenter by trade, later becoming an active trade unionist in the Elgin area.

During World War One he was a conscientious objector appearing before a Military Service Tribunal in July 1916. He left Elgin for Glasgow in September 1916, presumably driven out for his anti-militarist views and for not signing up for non-combatant work. He went to Glasgow in 1917, working in John Brown’s shipyard, and it is possible he was then imprisoned for ignoring the decision of the tribunal.

Leslie was a member of the Independent Labour Party, No-Conscription Fellowship, Socialist Labour Party (from September 1918 until September 1919) and then he was one of the founders of the Aberdeen Communist Group in September 1919. He was also actively involved in the ‘Hands of Russia’ campaign in Aberdeen, co-ordinated by Aberdeen Trades Council.

In July 1920 Leslie set off for Moscow, via Finland and Petrograd, as a stowaway and without a passport, to attend the Third Comintern Congress. He declared himself to be a British delegate of the British Communist Party, along with Sylvia Pankhurst. It is not clear though whether he was in fact an ‘official’ delegate, like Pankhurst.

He left to return to Scotland via Norway but was arrested and imprisoned. After a hunger strike, he made it back to Scotland, and in November 1920 spoke to an audience about his adventures at the Aberdeen Picturedrome.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Group, Aberdeen Communist Party and Socialist Labour Party.

References: Conscientious Objectors Register 1914 – 1918 at Imperial War Museum website, ‘Aberdeen Was More Red Than Glasgow: The Impact of the First World War and the Russian Revolution beyond Red Clydeside’ (William Kenefick, in Scotland and the Slavs: Cultures in Contact: 1500 – 2000 (Mark Cornwall & Murray Frames (eds.), Newtonville, 2001) and Red Scotland: The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left c.1872 – 1932 (William Kenefick, Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

Sources: Letters from Leslie are housed in Moscow in the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History.

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Henry (or Harry) Hill Duncan was born in 1862, son of Radical shoemaker Alexander (Sandy) Duncan. Henry was also a shoemaker and an active member of the Unitarian church, led by the Rev. Alexander Webster.

Duncan was active in Aberdeen Trades Council as delegate for the Boot and Shoemakers’ Union and he was also part of the Aberdeen Socialist Society with James Leatham et al. In early 1891 he led a group which acrimoniously split from the Society to form the Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation, changing its name to the Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group in 1893. This group had argued for a more revolutionary than reformist position. Duncan was a very active member of the group and published a pamphlet titled ‘A Plea for Anarchist Communism’ in 1893.

After the group dissolved in the mid-1890s Duncan came to the fore on the Aberdeen Trades Council, serving as President in 1903 – 1905 and 1910, and also playing a formative role in organising dock workers in the city. He was also a member of Aberdeen School Board from 1900 -1906 and from 1911 – 1920, later working for the Education Authority.

Related entries: Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group, Aberdeen Socialist Society, James Leatham and Rev. Alexander Webster.

References: obituary of H.H. Duncan in Aberdeen Journal 5th May 1937, web article by Nick Heath ‘Anarchism in Aberdeen, the Granite City’ (2013) (author used sources such as the articles submitted by the group to the journal Commonweal) and ‘A Plea for Anarchist Communism’ (H.H. Duncan, Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group, James Blair, Aberdeen, 1893).

Sources: as above, articles submitted by the group to the journal Commonweal and H.H. Duncan’s pamphlet. Also Post Office Directories.

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John Paton was born in Aberdeen, his father a master baker and his mother a paper factory worker. In his life he was employed in a bewildering number of occupations: apprentice compositor, warehouseman, apprentice baker, hairdresser, milkman and salesman of false teeth. He became involved in politics as a teenager through membership of the Clarion Club and the Shop Assistants’ Union. He joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) around 1906, often going to the Clarion Club room beside Marischal College to meet other like minded individuals. He was interested in socialist propaganda and often spoke in public around the usual gathering points such as the Castlegate.

He had some troubles in his work because of his vocal socialist viewpoints, and he moved to Glasgow around 1910. He became disillusioned with the ILP and became interested in the writings of Mikhail Bakunin and with others re-formed the Glasgow Anarchist Group. He returned to Aberdeen around 1912 becoming heavily involved again with the ILP. He became ILP representative on Aberdeen Trades Council, often putting forward anti-war resolutions and was the ILP nomination for North Aberdeen in 1918, but his anti-war stance worked against him. In 1920/1921 he was ILP Northern Organiser, and then until 1924 party organiser for all of Scotland. He stood for election in South Aberdeen in 1923, and was near to standing for Parliament again in 1928 but was unable to do so alongside his new role as General Secretary of the ILP. He left the ILP in 1933 over his opposition to what he regarded as its pro-communist policies.

He was also secretary of the International Committee of Independent Revolutionary Socialist Parties, secretary of the National Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, editor of The New Leader and also The Penal Reformer. He eventually became a Labour M.P. for Norwich from 1945 to 1964.

He wrote a 2 volume autobiography: volume 1 covers early life until 1919, whilst volume 2 (1919 – 1933) is mainly about his professional work with the ILP, after he leaves Aberdeen. The volumes are very detailed describing his formative years learning about socialism and atheism, the Aberdeen Clarion Club, Aberdeen ILP, his pacifist work in World War One (including a few occasions of conflict, such as when Ramsay MacDonald spoke in the city), the role of the ILP Northern Organiser and also the re-founding of the anarchist group in Glasgow.

Related entries: Aberdeen Clarion Club and Musings: Daily acts of rebellion no:1

References: 2 volumes of autobiography: Proletarian Pilgrimage (John Paton, George Routledge & Sons Ltd., London, 1935) and Left Turn! (John Paton, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., London, 1936). Entry in Biographical Dictionary of European Labour Leaders (2 volumes, A Lane, Westport Greenwood Publishing Co., 1995)

Sources: 2 volumes of autobiography noted above. Some items of correspondence are held at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre (People’s History Museum), Manchester.

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