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Posts Tagged ‘1890s’

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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I 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 2 in this series is the actions of the Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group (AACG) in August 1891, when invited to take part in a demonstration regarding the land question, and as reported in the journal Commonweal in September 1891. The demonstration was also to be attended by Henry Hyndman, leader of the Social Democratic Federation, the Aberdeen Socialist Society and members of the local trade union movement. Much to the annoyance of the Society and the unions, the AACG prepared banners with slogans and props….

…we had a beautiful banner bearing the inscriptions “Revolutionary Socialism” on one side and “No Master” on the other. There was also a cart, on which was erected a gibbet and from which there hung a figure representative of Capitalism, by some unforeseen occurrence, it bore a striking resemblance to the G.O.M*. On the figure there was a card bearing the words “His soul to hell may fly”, other mottos on the cart were “Dynamite the social sore”, ” Speed the Revolution”, “Vive la Commune”, ” Damn the British Constitution”, etc.’.

Another report goes into more detail: ‘On the cart itself were seated two young men, one clad in a red vest and the other with a red cap and a black mask. In addition to the cart the only other emblems were a hideous picture, representing a poverty stricken room, with a female figure stretched dead upon the floor, weeping children, and the words beneath “The real secret of England’s greatness”…’

*G.O.M. refers to the Grand Old Man, aka William Gladstone, Liberal Party leader, and at this time former (and future as well) Prime Minister.

Related entries: Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group.

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Songs for Socialists

A key part of a protest is having a slogan to shout or a song to sing. The most common amongst socialists is The Red Flag, with words written in 1889, by Irish socialist Jim Connell.

Yet, in 1890 the Scottish Land and Labour League/Socialist League (Aberdeen branch) published a pamphlet called ‘Songs for Socialists’ (Songs for Socialists, James Leatham, Aberdeen, 1890, 3 editions), based on the earlier ‘Chants for Socialists’ published by William Morris and The Socialist League. Before The Red Flag was prominent, there were other songs sung such as: No Master (William Morris), The Marseillaise (with words by D.J. Nicoll) and When the Revolution Comes (J. Bruce Glasier).

It was common after a meeting to hold a musical programme and the Aberdeen socialists even had a choir. The main song was the French anthem ‘The Marseillaise’ which was sung after meetings, on May Day marches and also when Henry Hyndman visited the city in August 1891. The Revolutionary Socialist Federation (who had split from the Aberdeen Socialist Society and were soon to be renamed the Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group), also sang ‘The Marseillaise’, but they also sang ‘No Master’.

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The research for this blog is highlighting the existence of groups, yet how many members did these groups have? With the lack of archives, evidence is unfortunately fragmentary, and so numbers of active members needs to taken with a pinch of salt it has to be said. Yet, even with the lack of evidence, it is clear that they often had a loud voice and influence on matters, despite their low numbers.

I have been collecting the numbers of members, so far I have:

Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group (1891 – mid/late 1890s)

100 (source: newspaper report (Dundee Courier) of the 3rd Conference of Scottish Anarchists in Aberdeen in January 1895)

Aberdeen Clarion Club (1899 – 1909)

60 (source: club minute book at formation in 1899)

Aberdeen Socialist Club (1909 – 1916?)

50 (source: newspaper report (Aberdeen Daily Journal) on the opening of the new club rooms, June 1909)

Aberdeen Socialist Society (c.1891 – c.1896)

c.120, yet the real number is probably a good deal lower, as presumably some individuals would have been attending as partners or guests of members (source: newspaper report (Aberdeen Daily Journal) on the annual social meeting in 1891). Another source states 30 (source: Aberdeen Labour Elector, 17th August 1893)

National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Aberdeen) (c.1900 – c.1919) (Aberdeen Women’s Suffrage Association)

60/70 (source: Aberdeen branch report, noted in The Conciliatory Suffragette (Sarah Pederson in History Scotland, vol.5:2, 2005)

Women’s Liberation Group (c. 1969 – c. 1979)

c.20 (source: group newsletter ‘Bust-Up’ from the early 1970s.

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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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There were ‘freethinkers’ in Aberdeen from the 1820s, followers of Richard Carlile and Robert Owen, themselves heirs of Thomas Paine. There was renewed attempts to form a society in Aberdeen in 1855, and a John Fraser of Aberdeen, wrote an article for ‘The London Investigator’, stating that there were plenty of freethinkers in the city, and appealing to form a new society. The high point of the Secularist movement was between the 1850s and 1880s under the leadership of George Holyoake and Charles Bradlaugh (founder of the National Secular Society (NSS) in 1866). There were numerous societies throughout Britain in the 19th century/early 20th century, including in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In Aberdeen a group was active between 1870 and 1878 and it would seem was part of the Scottish Secular Union, which was for a time a Scottish equivalent of the NSS. There was also a society, which was an official branch of the NSS, between 1892 and 1894. A further group is noted as being active between 1899 – 1901. In the society which was active in the 1870s, the officers included, George Middleton (President), Joseph Campbell (Treasurer), James Maitland (Financial Secretary) and Keith Murray (Secretary). The society met every Sunday at Aberdeen Reform House, Guestrow. Also of note is that the radical and freethought journal ‘The National Reformer’ (edited by Charles Bradlaugh), was available in Aberdeen from booksellers, George Middleton at Skene Square. Middleton was a key member of the movement, as a local agent for secularist publications and also because his premises were used as a meeting place. He was also a publisher and issued pamphlets attacking the church and local ministers (see, The Comet: Or Letters To Bon-Accordians, 9 issues produced between 1884 – 1887).

Related entries: Utilitarian Society (Aberdeen).

References: The Comet: Or Letters To Bon-Accordians (George Middleton, Aberdeen, 9 issues, 1884 – 1887), Victorian Infidels: the origins of the British Secularist Movement 1791 – 1866 (Edward Royle, Manchester University Press, 1974), Radicals, Secularists and Republicans: Popular Freethought in Britain 1866 – 1915 (Edward Royle, Manchester University Press, 1980), Aberdeen Booksellers of Bygone Days (William Walker, Aberdeen Book-lover 2, 1918), The London Investigator, The National Secular Society Almanack, The Secular Chronicle and The Workers’ Herald (1892)

Sources: unknown.

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