Posts Tagged ‘1890s’

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 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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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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The Social Democratic Federation (SDF) (renamed the Social Democratic Party from 1907) was Britain’s first socialist political party and was established in 1881 (then called the Democratic Federation). Members included Henry Hyde Champion, James Connelly, Henry Hyndman, Tom Mann and William Morris. In 1884 the Federation split with others going to form the Socialist League. A key founding member of the SDF who influenced matters in Aberdeen well into the 1890s was Henry Hyde Champion.

In Aberdeen there was already a socialist group operating, the Aberdeen Socialist Society, led by James Leatham. In 1893 Leatham left Aberdeen for Manchester and the Society affiliated itself to the SDF. The SDF became increasingly influential and overshadowed the Independent Labour Party as the 1890s progressed. SDF members were involved throughout the period, as members of the Aberdeen Trades Council, as part of the various interations of joint trade union/labour organisation committees and also standing for municipal and general elections. The first SDF electoral success was William Cooper (former Aberdeen Socialist Society) in the town council elections for Woodside in 1895 (he remained a councillor until 1907). In the 1906 and 1910 general elections for the Aberdeen North seat, Tom Kennedy was a candidate (Kennedy was from Aberdeenshire and Social Democratic Federation organiser in Aberdeen). Party officers included Aberdeen Trades Council senior officers: James Fraser (Secretary), James Gordon (Vice President), John Macwaters (President) and David Palmer (President). Later members included S Skakle (Chair), Alexander Skakle (President), James Cormack (Vice President) and Miss Coutts (Secretary).

The Aberdeen branch had a hall at 144 Gallowgate, then moved to 41 Queen Street (in 1899), and later had rooms at 42 Castle Street. The branch published their own irregular newspaper called ‘The Comet’ and there were several issues from 1898 until about 1908. The newspaper was described as ‘a working class paper…a paper that will take cognisance of the existence of the class war going on in society’.

At the beginning of the 20th century the SDF began to break-up with many of its notable members leaving for the Independent Labour Party, in 1903 the left-wing members in Scotland left to form the Socialist Labour Party and in 1904 English members left to form their own Socialist Party of Great Britain. In 1911, following a Socialist Unity Conference, the SDF united with other groups, to form the British Socialist Party (it lasted from 1911 – 1920).

Related entries: Aberdeen Trades Union Council, Aberdeen Socialist Society, British Socialist Party, Nationalist Socialist Party and Socialist Labour Party.

References: History of the Trades Council and the Trade Union Movement in Aberdeen, (W. Diack, Aberdeen, 1939), Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955) and The Aberdeen Trades Council and Politics 1900-1939 (C. W. M. Phipps, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1980).

Sources: branch newspapers called Comet (9 issues from 1898 – 1908) held at Aberdeen City Library, Local Studies. Some issues also held at University of Aberdeen Library as well as Aberdeen Trades Union Council papers (references within).

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In February 1891 a conference of representatives of the Aberdeen Trade Council and the Aberdeen Labour Committee met to discuss political matters and recommended the Council to convene a meeting of delegates from Trade Councils across Scotland. The aim was united action to secure Labour members of parliament for Scotland, with a programme such as a legislative eight-hour day. The meeting took place in August 1891 and was arranged from Aberdeen but convened in Edinburgh. The key resolution was that: ‘This conference recognising the need for direct representation of labour in Parliament and on local administrative boards, recommends that wherever a candidate is put forward by recognised local labour organisations, and whose candidature is in no wise connected with either great political parties, every possible effort should be made by the trade organisations of this country to assist him financially and otherwise’. The Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party (STCLP) was formally established at the next conference in Glasgow in March 1892 and the Executive Committee consisted of a representative from each Scottish trades council as well as a representative of the Scottish Labour Party. The Party recommended that local branches were established and in May 1892 a branch in Aberdeen was formed. Branch members included former members of the Aberdeen Labour Committee: A.T.G. Beveridge (he was Chairman), A. Birse, George Bisset, George Gerrie, A.P. Glass and William Mitchell (Joint-Secretary); individuals and trade unionists from the Aberdeen Socialist Society such as William Cooper and William Rennie; and other officers such as John Keir (Vice-Chairman), J.I. Mundie (Joint-Secretary) and James Philip (Treasurer).

The Aberdeen branch was involved in the promotion of the first ever ‘Labour’ candidate, Henry Hyde Champion (formerly of the Social Democratic Federation) in Aberdeen South, in 1892. Yet the formation at national level of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in late 1892/early 1893 changed everything and there seemed no reason for the continuation of the STCLP, so much so that the STCLP folded by March 1893 and advised that branches should now join the ILP. The Aberdeen ILP formed directly from The Scottish Trades Councils’ Labour Party and it was more or less a simple name change.

The STCLP was briefly resurrected by Champion in October 1893 and a conference was held in Dundee. This was basically a vehicle for Champion and part of his feud with leaders of the ILP such as Keir Hardie. It was unsuccessful though.

Related entries: Aberdeen Trades Union Council, Aberdeen Labour Committee and Independent Labour Party (Aberdeen branch).

References: 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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