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Posts Tagged ‘1880s’

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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The Aberdeen Labour Committee was formed about the time when the Aberdeen Junior Liberal Association folded in 1888. The key individual was George Gerrie, former Junior Liberal Association Secretary, but there was also George Bisset (President of the Aberdeen Trades Council 1886 – 1888). This Committee of middle-class former Liberals was formalised in 1890 and was composed of not only Bisset and Gerrie, but also former Aberdeen Radical Association member Dr A.T.G. Beveridge (future Chairman of the Aberdeen Independent Labour Party (ILP)) and former Junior Liberal Association member W.C. Spence. There was also stalwart campaigner Rev. Alexander Webster, Dr (later Sir) W.L. Mackenzie, A.P. Glass (shop-keeper/hatter) and A. Birse (a retired schoolteacher).

The function of the Committee was ‘to provide for those who were willing to assist the [Trades] Council on any labour questions of importance’. The Committee worked jointly with the Trades Council for a number of years, a key issue being the move towards the creation of the Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party (STCLP), in May 1892. The Committee was also involved in the canvassing of former Social Democratic Federation member Henry Hyde Champion as a Labour candidate for Aberdeen South in 1892.

When the STCLP was formed the Aberdeen Labour Committee folded. After a short period the STCLP became the Independent Labour Party (Aberdeen branch) and there was remarkable continuity between the ILP executive committee and the Aberdeen Labour Committee.

Related entries: Aberdeen Junior Liberal Association, Aberdeen Radical Association, Rev. Alexander Webster, Unitarian minister and socialist, Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party and Independent Labour Party (Aberdeen).

References: Trade Union Movement in Aberdeen (W. Diack, Aberdeen, 1939) and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: unknown but references within Aberdeen Trades Union Council papers held at University of Aberdeen Library.

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The Aberdeen Junior Liberal Association was formed in 1882 and came out of (along-with the Aberdeen Radical Association) the splits between radicals and moderates in the Aberdeen Liberal Association (formed in 1877). Both associations formed in the 1880s were mainly composed of radicals and saw their function as pushing the Liberal Association along a more reformist path.

The Association formed around the issue of land nationalisation and held public lectures by individuals such as the radical MP William Alexander Hunter. Also, in 1886/1887 James Leatham lectured on the merits of socialism and notably in 1888, Robert Cunninghame Graham and Keir Hardie, put the case for working class politics.

Members of The Junior Liberal Association were more middle-class professional people than the Radical Association. Committee members included George Gerrie (Association Secretary and a bank official), George Bisset (President of the Aberdeen Trades Council 1886 – 1888) and W.C. Spence (a school teacher). The Association wound up in 1888 and all these men became supporters of a policy of independent Labour representation, via, The Labour Committee and then the Aberdeen Independent Labour Party.

Related entries: Aberdeen Radical Association, William Lindsay, bookseller and Rev. Alexander Webster, Unitarian minister and socialist.

References: James Leatham 1865-1945 (Bob Duncan, Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978) and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: pamphlets of public lectures are held at University of Aberdeen Library.

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The Aberdeen Radical Association was formed in 1884 and came out of (along-with the Aberdeen Junior Liberal Association) the splits between radicals and moderates in the Aberdeen Liberal Association (formed in 1877). Both associations formed in the 1880s were mainly composed of radicals and saw their function as pushing the Liberal Association along a more reformist path.

The objects stated in the 1884 Constitution were: ‘The elimination of all power based on hereditary privilege, the promotion of political and social reform, and the furtherance of measures tending to the amelioration and advancement of the people’. The list of policies went further: abolition of the House of Lords, nationalisation of land, disestablishment and disendowment of state churches, free education and women’s suffrage.

The Radical Association members were predominantly working class, but also included influential leaders such as Dr A.T.G. Beveridge (future Chairman of the Aberdeen Independent Labour Party), George Bisset (Aberdeen Trades Council President 1886 – 1888),  James C. Thompson (Aberdeen Trades Council President 1883 and 1885), Rev. Alexander Webster (Unitarian minister and socialist) and William Lindsay (bookseller, former chartist and involved in many other political organisations). The Association successfully co-operated with the Trades Council on the promotion of William Alexander Hunter as MP for North Aberdeen in 1885.

The Association appears to have wound up at the end of 1887 as there were discussions around this issue at the time. It was felt by some members that the Junior Liberal Association was sufficiently fulfilling the functions of the Radical Association.

Related entries: Aberdeen Junior Liberal Association, William Lindsay, bookseller and Rev. Alexander Webster, Unitarian minister and socialist.

References: James Leatham 1865-1945 (Bob Duncan, Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978) and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: Radical Association Constitution (Aberdeen, 1884) is held at the University of Aberdeen Library.

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The Scottish Land and Labour League (SLLL) was formed in Edinburgh in 1884 and constituted itself as the Scottish section of the largest British socialist organisation of the time, the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), itself founded in 1881. The SLLL agitated for land nationalisation united with public ownership of industrial capital. Later that same year after a split in the SDF, the SLLL affiliated itself to the new organisation, the Socialist League (again effectively as a Scottish section).

In late 1887 a branch of the SLLL was established in Aberdeen after a series of meetings held by SLLL organiser J.L. Mahon. The meetings had been arranged by James Leatham, compositor (and soon to be a publisher in his own right). The local organiser was Leatham, Secretary was Patrick Barron and Treasurer was Harry/Henry Hill Duncan. The branch organised open air meetings in the Castlegate every Saturday, organised a choir and provided for literature to be had at meetings such as Justice (journal of the SDF), Commonweal (journal of the Socialist League) and Agnostic Journal and Secular Review. One of the major events organised was the hosting of a lecture by William Morris, in March 1888.

By 1890/1891 as the Socialist League nationally was disintegrating with the takeover by anarchists, a new organisation was formed called the Aberdeen Socialist Society.

Related entries: James Leatham, author and publisher, Aberdeen Socialist Society and Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group.

References: James Leatham autobiography (unfinished) ’60 years of World-Mending’ which was serialised in Leatham’s own magazine ‘Gateway’ from 1940 – 1945, James Leatham 1865-1945 (Bob Duncan, Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978), History of the Trades Council and the Trade Union Movement in Aberdeen (W. Diack, Aberdeen, 1939) and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: Socialist Songs: Socialist League, Committee of the Aberdeen Branch (Aberdeen, 1889).

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Rev. Alexander Webster was originally from Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire but later moved to the south of Scotland. He came back to the north-east, arriving in Aberdeen, from Glasgow, in 1884, and then stayed for 7 years. He returned for a second period of ministry from 1895 – 1901, and after a period of retirement, died in Cults in 1918.

Webster was a Christian socialist, involved in many political organisations and causes and he was also a prolific pamphleteer and orator. Before arriving in Aberdeen, whilst in Glasgow, he had chaired the Scottish Land Restoration League. He and would speak on any platform, be it, Social Democratic Federation, Independent Labour Party (I.L.P.) or Aberdeen Trades Council. He was one of the leaders of the Radical Association (the group existed from 1884 – c.1886), a member of the Aberdeen Labour Committee (the group formed in 1888), Vice-President of Keir Hardie’s Scottish Labour Party and presided over the infamous meeting when William Morris visited and lectured in Aberdeen in 1888. Webster was a very influential figure in the development of socialism in the city, both in the cause, but also in his association with a younger generation of Aberdeen socialists such as James Leatham (who published some of his writings). Later in life he was still active voicing his opinions at the time of Boer War and later in 1908 agitating for women’s suffrage.

His wrote many pamphlets, such as ‘The Political Position of Labour: A Plea for a Separate Labour Party’ (c.1893) and also issued an irregular journal called ‘The Ploughshare: A Journal of Radical Religion and Morality’.

References: Memories of Ministry (A. Webster, Glasgow 1913), In memoriam Rev. Alexander Webster, pioneer and reformer, Aberdeen Appreciations (Mrs Webster, Maclaren, Glasgow, 1919), James Leatham 1865-1945 (Bob Duncan, Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978) and Aberdeen 1800 – 2000 A New History (W Hamish Fraser & Clive Lee (eds.), Tuckwell Press, 2000).

Sources: a number of his pamphlets are held at University of Aberdeen Library.

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William Lindsay was born in Newhills parish, son of a shoemaker, and followed that trade for a period. Lindsay then established himself as a newsagent and bookseller in the Gallowgate in the 1840s. He was a member of many radical political groups throughout his life.

In 1837 he became a member of an Owenite socialist committee which was formed after a lecture in Concert Court, Broad Street, held by the Owenite Robert Buchanan. A committee was formed with the purpose of keeping the subject of socialism before the attention of the people of Aberdeen. Buchanan started a democratic paper in Glasgow and Lindsay was appointed as the Aberdeen correspondent. In 1841 Lindsay and colleagues invited Robert Owen to Aberdeen and he came in spring 1842 and lectured in the hall of the Royal Hotel.

Lindsay also joined the Aberdeen chartists, was a founder member of the Aberdeen Liberal Association in 1877, founder member of the Northern Co-Operative Company and was a member of the Aberdeen Workmen’s Peace Association from 1875.

Lindsay was involved in other social issues, and in the 1840s, along-with fellow delegates from the different trades and sympathetic professional men and merchants, formed a Committee of Sympathy which provided food to poor families on Sundays.

Related entries: Committee of Sympathy.

References: Some Notes Personal and Public by William Lindsay (W & W Lindsay, Aberdeen, 1898) and Aberdeen 1800 – 2000 A New History (W Hamish Fraser & Clive Lee (eds.), Tuckwell Press, 2000).

Sources: unknown.

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