This is a wonderful ha'penny token issued by the radical London Corresponding Society in 1795 - a way of providing change and of course a form of publicity and promotion. It's about the size of an old penny - on one side there's a group of men dressed, it seems, in Roman style, and on the other the dove of peace and the slogan 'UNITED FOR A REFORM OF PARLIAMENT'.
There's a copy in the Science Museum which records that the obverse is based on the fable of the bundle of sticks - one of Aesop's fables the point of which is 'unity in strength'. Here's an abbreviated version:
An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered them to bring in a bundle of sticks, and said to his eldest son: “Break it.”
The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the bundle. The other sons also tried, but none succeeded.
“Untie the bundle,” said the father, “and each of you take a stick.” When they had done so, he told them: “Now, break,” and each stick was easily broken.
The London Corresponding Society also issued another, much rarer, ha'penny token - one of which recently came up for sale (and no, I wasn't the buyer of this one).
Robert Owen's 'labour notes'
This is a classy piece of political ephemera - a note issued in 1833 as part of the industrialist and socialist Robert Owen's attempt to use labour as the basis for a means of exchange. As you can see, the note is to the value of ten hours.
This is what TUC History Online says about the endeavour:
Labour notes issued by the National Equitable Labour Exchange, founded in 1832 by Robert Owen (1771-1858).
The Exchange originally located in Grays Inn Road, London but from 1833 housed in Charlotte Street, operated as a depot where workers could exchange products they had made by means of labour notes representing hours of work. The Exchange was initially successful and branches opened in South London and Birmingham, but disputes over the value of products and the time taken to make them led to the failure of the experiment and all the branches closed in 1834.
Women workers at the Grays Inn Exchange mainly needlewomen and shoemakers, were initially paid at a lower rate than men and many refused to sell their goods there unless they were offered equal terms.
There's more about the Labour Exchange and its notes here.
Owen's plan for equitable exchange failed - Josiah Warren tried something similar in the US, with similar results. But as you can see. the notes were well designed and there was a lot of thought given to the scheme.
And Robert Owen of course is still remembered for his textile mill at New Lanark, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and for his pioneering role on the co-operative movement.
Bradlaugh for Northampton
This terracotta statue of Charles Bradlaugh, one of the most renowned of Victorian radicals, stands in the middle of a roundabout in the constituency he represented in Parliament: Northampton.
Bradlaugh was a proselytising atheist, a Republican, an advocate of birth control, a campaigner for social justice, political reform and a free press and an advocate of Irish and Indian nationalism. And he was at the centre of one of the all-time-great Parliamentary dramas - when he was repeatedly returned by the electors of Northampton and repeatedly denied permission to take his seat in the House of Commons.
Bradlaugh aroused strong emotions - to his followers he was the bravest of the brave, a courageous opponent of privilege (you can get a flavour of how he was viewed by the inscriptions, from a song 'Bradlaugh for Northampton', around the base of the statue); to his detractors he was a Godless, self-promoting knave. He was certainly impetuous - but he also succeeded in challenging some of the most profound injustices of his era.
I was in Northampton for a walk organised by the Bradlaugh Society to mark the 150th anniversary of his first Parliamentary candidacy in the town. And where better to gather to celebrate the life of an unbeliever and contemptuous critic of clerical privilege than the steps of the town's main church, the commanding All Saints.
The other building shown - with the boarded-up white arches (and yes that is a kilted piper playing) - was the hotel overlooking the market square which Bradlaugh repeatedly made his campaign headquarters.
We had the chance of visiting Northampton's awe-inspiring Guildhall and also the town's library where, in the Carnegie Room, there is a portrait of Bradlaugh in the closing months of his life -
Bradlaugh contested the seat of Northampton an astonishing eight times. He was not local to the area but was invited to contest by local radicals. It was in many ways a promising seat. Although Northamptonshire was a county of large landed estates, the town had a strong non-conformist tradition and the workers in its principal industry, the boot and shoe trade (which still survives in attenuated form) were decidedly radical.
On the first three occasions that Bradlaugh stood - the general elections of 1868 and 1874 and a by-election later in 1874 - he lost. That third defeat was regarded by his supporters as unjust and irregular, and there was rioting in Northampton's market square. But in 1880 - now endorsed by the local Liberal establishment - he was elected to represent this two-member constituency.
There then unfolded a turbulent and unseemly drama. Bradlaugh as an atheist asked to affirm to take his seat. This was refused. He then said he would take the oath. This too was refused on the grounds that he had made clear that the oath had no meaning to him. He was on one occasion forcibly removed from the chamber and indeed detained overnight in the Houses of Parliament.
Three times, he was either expelled as an MP or chose to resign in protest about not being allowed to take his seat. On all three occasions he won the ensuing by-election ... though on one occasion his majority was cut to the bone. It became a cause celebre. He was finally allowed to take the oath in 1886, and two years later legislation allowing members to affirm was passed. The prolonged stand-off took a toll on Bradlaugh - he died in 1891 at the age of 57. I told his story many years ago in a radio documentary for the BBC World Service.
Today's walk ended, suitably enough, in the part of town which was Bradlaugh's political stronghold: the boot-and-shoe quarter. A disused shoe factory there (I chanced across a man who once worked there - he said it was where Church's made women's shoes) has been turned into a pub and named TCB, 'The Charles Bradlaugh'. And there we toasted his memory and achievements.
The weather was kind for the walk - warm thanks to Northampton's Bradlaugh Society for organising it, and a call-out for their campaign to save the Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore. Bradlaugh became known as the 'Member for India' because of his willingness to raise India's grievances in Parliament and his links with the Indian National Congress. Lahore's Bradlaugh Hall - built from 1900 - was named in tribute to him. It was where many landmark nationalist meetings and protest gatherings were held and is part of Lahore's political as well as architectural heritage - but the hall is now in a state of acute disrepair ... as you can see -
We Will Remember Them
Today, of all days, is one to remember those who fought in two world wars. My grandfather, Joseph Whitehead, was a despatch rider in the First World War - taking messages by motorbike from one part of the front-line to another and between the front-line and command posts some way behind. This photo from 1914 shows a group of 'DRs', as they were known, in training - my grandfather is standing on the extreme right.
I now have the print - and a photograph of my grandfather, in his corporal's uniform, at his wedding to Ethel Brooksbank on 17th April 1917.
Joseph and Ethel had three sons - all played a part in the Second World War: one in the air force, another in the navy and the third in the medical corps.
My father's twin brother, Bernard - he's on the right below, my father is on the left - enlisted in the Royal Navy and became a Midshipman and later a Sub-Lieutenant. He was a submarine detection officer and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for the sinking of two submarines in the Bristol Channel. He served in the Channel at D-Day and also in the Arctic convoys.
My father's older brother, Donald, was a Quaker and a conscientious objector. He joined the Royal Artillery Medical Corps and served in North Africa and Italy.
All four Whiteheads, I am thankful to say, survived the wars in which they served. But it's important to remember and reflect upon all those who didn't return home - all the civilians who lost their lives - and all the suffering that war unleashed.
This is the sort of political ephemera that I love - a programme for the Daily Worker's annual dinner, cabaret and dance at a posh Bloomsbury hotel. This is from the spring of 1943, a few months after the wartime ban on the British Communists' daily paper was lifted.
On the back of the programme is a space for autographs, and whoever's had this card was busy that evening - getting , by my count, twenty-three monikers. But who were they? Well I'm going to try to find out, and will update this post as more information comes to light -
1: Grader - and then by the same hand in Burmese 'Great Dah': in other words 'Grader' rendered into Burmese script. 'Dah' means knife in Burmese, though that doesn't solve the mystery of who Grader was - it's not a Burmese name.
2 R. Bishop: Reg Bishop was a prominent communist who had spent time in the Soviet bloc
3 Barbara Niven: was an artist who worked for many years for the Daily Worker, become the head of its 'Fighting Fund'
4 M. Myat Tun (and in Burmese 'Maung Myat Tun'): he had been in touch with George Orwell in 1942. This appears to have been a name adopted by U Myint Thein (1900-1994) who studied at Cambridge and was called to the Bar in 1925. He was appointed Burma's first ambassador to China in 1948 and was Burma's Chief Justice from 1957 to 1962.
5 ?? T. Srenier
6 Willie Hall
7 Harry Davis: this may be the Bethnal Green boxer of this name
8 D.F, Springhall: Dave Springhall was editor of the Daily Worker in 1938-9 and then the party's national organsier. Later in 1943, he was sentenced to seven years in jail for espionage - for gathering classified information about defence equipment - and was expelled from the CP. As well as his signature, he wrote: 'with keen affection'.
9 ? Rona Ofrenbrau
10 Arthur Danahar: was a well-known boxer
11 ? Henri Vyarik
12 Cayton: was the nom de plume of Alf Rubin and came from Cayton Street, where the Daily Worker was based in the mid-1930s. He was the paper's racing tipster for many decades.
13 Harry Ross
14 G.W. Sinfield: George Sinfield was active in the 1930s in the workers' sports movement and the National Union of Boxers. He became the Daily Worker's sports writer and later its industrial correspondent.
15 R. Palme Dutt: Rajani Palme Dutt was one of the leading figures in the Communist Party, and was general secretary over 1939-41 when Harry Pollitt stood down because of his reservations over the 'imperialist war' line.
16 J.B.S Haldane: a very prominent scientist and populariser of science, and an Eton-educated Marxist
17 D.N. Pritt: a barrister and 'fellow traveller', he was elected as a Labour MP in 1935 but was expelled from the Labour Party in 1940 for defending the Soviet invasion of Finland
18 Frank Pitcairn: was the nom de plume of Claud Cockburn a journalist who wrote regularly for the Daily Worker, most famously from Spain during the civil war
19 ?? Slattery
20 Bland: perhaps a cartoonist
21 Ben Francis: worked for thirty years on the editorial staff of the Daily Worker
22 Jack Owen: was a member of the editorial board of the Daily Worker
23 Bill Duty, who also seems to refer to himself as Sweet William
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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