John Burns and Archibald Gorrie
A new acquisition - a marvellous pamphlet from the heyday of the socialist revival of the 1880s, made more special because of its association.
John Burns was a leading figure in the Social Democratic Federation. He was one of four SDF leaders tried and acquitted of sedition after the 'West End Riots' of 1886. The following year he was involved in the 'Bloody Sunday' clashes in Trafalgar Square in November 1887. He was again prosecuted - for riot and unlawful assembly - and on this occasion convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment (though he only served part of that).
This is the text of John Burn's speech in his defence at the Old Bailey, in which he famously declared in response to such counts as "being armed, did make a riot", that 'the only arms I had upon me were a handkerchief and a tram ticket.'
The key issues were the right of public meeting in Tafalagrar square and the arbitrary nature of police action to prevent outdoor socialist gatherings. Burns declared:
'When labourers earn so little when at work and starve when out of work, when the incentive to honest labour is less than that which crime secures, society is face to face with a problem that a policeman's truncheon will not solve, or the suppression of public meetings remove. if the police had shown greater tact and consideration all trouble could have been avoided.'
In 1889, John Burns was a leading figure in the London dock strike - he was later a Liberal cabinet minister.
The nicest aspect of the pamphlet is its inscription:
This is almost certainly the signature of Archibald Gorrie, a prominent socialist activist in Leicester. Some of his papers are held in the Gorrie Collection at the University of Leicester. Among the handbills and posters is this item promoting John Burns's visit to Leicester to address the local branch of the Socialist League -
- and look at the date: 24th March 1889. Exactly the date which Gorrie set down alongside his signature on the cover of the pamphlet.
So it would seem that Burns brought copies of his defence speech with him from London, and Gorrie got a copy from him. A pity he didn't ask Burns to sign the pamphlet - but wonderful to have such clear provenance of a really lustrous pamphlet.
On a sadder note, my search to find out more about Archibald Gorrie revealed that what I take to be his eldest son - a graduate of Pembroke College, Oxford - was killed in the closing weeks of the First World War. Gorrie himself seems to have lived until 1941.
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