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Jack (John) Iliffe

Died 15th June 1959 aged 76, (Communist Party & Secularist)

Jack Iliffe was a self educated man and one of nine children. He was described by fellow Secularists as a "rough diamond, whose god was the working class. His whole life was dedicated to their service."  During the 1930s, he was a CP activist who  regularly spoke in the Market Place. When he appeared in court, following a blackshirt meeting he described himself as a propagandist. He was active in the NUWM and in 1935 was campaigning to get trade union rates of pay paid to the unemployed 'employed' on work schemes. At that time a corporation worker got 50/- for a 48 hour week, whilst the unemployed, doing the same work, got 7/- in cash and a 7/- food ticket for 36 hours work.  He was also an active member of the Secular Society for over 60 years.

Sources: Leicester Mercury 14th October 1935, Leicester Secular Society Minute Books.


Alderman William Inskip J.P.

Born: Leicestershire 1852, died: 1899 (Liberal)

William Inskip was a laster in the boot and shoe trade, becoming treasurer of NUBSO in 1880. He lacked any formal education, but nevertheless read widely. He was elected general secretary in 1886 and dominated the union for many years. He was a trade unionist of the old school whose social and political attitudes could be described as ‘Lib-Lab.’ He was contemptuous of egalitarianism and was convinced that social progress required the generous rewarding of individuality, thrift and energy. He linked those virtues of self help with skilled artisans and trade unions, whilst he saw the sins of idleness, unscrupulous and improvidence linked to the unskilled. Whilst he could be hostile to co-operative schemes, he was a personal investor in Equity shoes.

 During the 1890s, he became increasingly isolated in the union as socialists like T.F. Richards and Martin Curley gained support, breaking the close relationship between the NUBSO executive and the Leicester Liberal Association. He was elected to the Town Council, as a Trades Council nominee to the Liberal Association in 1891 and was treasurer of the TUC parliamentary committee. He died of T.B. aged 47 in 1899 and many Leicester firms closed for a few hours to allow workers to attend his funeral.

Sources: Fox, Alan, A History of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Workers. 1958, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism


Miss Catherine Irwin

Born: Leicester 1877 (I.L.P. & Labour Party)

Catherine Irwin was educated at High Cross School and Wyggeston High School for Girls. She was elected as a member of the Board of Guardians in 1909 and remained on the board for 15 years until it was disbanded in 1928. In 1919, stood in the Council elections and was also appointed as a JP. Along with other Labour guardians she opposed relief being paid half in kind (bread) and half in money. She believed that relief should be given in money.


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F.J. Jackson

Born: Southampton, 23rd July 1900 (Labour Party)

Fred Jackson came to live in South Wigston in 1914 and commenced work in a biscuit factory for 5/- per week. In 1916 he joined the I.L.P. and he served in the Leicestershire Regiment during the later stages of the 1914/18 war with the Rhine Army of Occupation. Afterwards he spent ten years as a railway cleaner and locomotive fireman, and member of the N.U.R. He subsequently worked in the Engineering Department of the Leicester Co-Operative Society and later still as General Secretary of the National Growers Association, and then as a Welfare Officer to a local firm of Building Contractors

In 1926, he became Honorary Secretary to the League of the Blind and was a delegate from the League to the Trades Council. He became president of the Trades Council in 1931 and assisted the blind marchers in 1936 when they came through Leicester on their way to protest in London.

He was elected to City Council in 1928 for Castle, but lost his seat in 1948. He was then elected for Humberstone in 1950. He became Lord Mayor in 1957 and an alderman in 1960. He was leader of the City Council Labour group in 1964.

Sources: Leicester City Council, Roll of Lord Mayors 1928-2000


 

Mrs Constance E. Jackson

Born: King's Lynn, Norfolk, 17th February 1896 (Labour Party)

During the 1939- 45 war, she was appointed by the Minister of Labour as Employment Officer with the Ministry of Labour and National Service. In October 1945, she given a week's notice from her job because she refused to withdraw resign or withdraw her candidacy from the Municipal Elections. She was elected and as the wife of Fred Jackson became Lady Mayoress in 1957. She was chair of the Council’s Welfare committee in the late fifties and early sixties. She became Lord Mayor in 1963.


 

William Jackson

Born: c1779 (Framework Knitter)

Described as the most vigorous and enterprising of the Leicester framework-knitters’ leaders, William Jackson was leader of what was probably the first really permanent union in Leicester. It lasted from 1817 to 1823 and at its peak, it had 8,000 members paying 6d per week. Although, Jackson started in the stockingers’ trade at the age of 11, he managed to acquire some education and could express himself well, both on paper and on the platform.

In 1817, Jackson appealed directly to Lord Sidmouth (the Home secretary) against the combination laws which he considered to be one of principle causes of low wages and pleaded with the government to fix a minimum wage and a single poor relief fund for the whole of the country. That year he successfully persuaded the overseers of the Leicester parishes not to grant relief to those who were working in the hosiery trade 'at an underprice,' but to give relief to those who might be thrown out of work.

As wages fell from 14s to 7s per week, he was active in the general strike which called took place in the East Midlands from September 1817. The strike seems to have lasted until the beginning of 1818, when the stockingers’ funds became exhausted and they were obliged to return to work defeated. There was considerable sympathy for the stockingers and this is reflected in that local magistrates failed to enforce the Combination Laws and outlaw the union of which he was secretary. This took place at a time when the 'respectable classes' fear of a Luddite insurrection was at its height.

In 1819 wages became as low in 1817 and there was a further strike,  the parishes supported the workers and their families for about six weeks until agreement was reached. That year Jackson gave evidence to the Commons Committee on the Framework-Knitters Petition in which described the difficulties and hardships that confronted his family.

It was also in 1819 that Jackson became chairman of the Framework-Knitters Friendly & Relief Society of the Town and County of Leicester which was in reality a trade union disguised as a friendly society in order to avoid persecution under the Combination Laws. (This was aided by Rev Robert Hall) Counsel's opinion was that it was perfectly legal and could pay relief when members were out of work (on strike). Care was taken to disclaim all violent or illegal intentions. The core of the organisation was the framework knitters of Leicester whose organisation was divided into thirteen districts each with treasurers and stewards. Men paid 6p a week and women and boys 3d a week when in work and were entitled to eight shillings a week relief. Although in 1820, one hosier attempted to summon Jackson and other officials on a charge of combination, it was quashed on a technicality.

This society was continued successfully from 1819 to 1823. During the winter of 1820,  2,600 framework-knitters drew upon the funds of society which soon became exhausted.  Fortunately, the society was able to borrow £1,500 from the 'gentlemen the town and county' and this supported the unemployed until the summer of 1823 when they all found work. The money borrowed was paid off and subscriptions were more than adequate during the next two year. However, in 1830, Jackson recorded: 

"Unfortunately, the workmen forgot their sufferings - they left off subscribing - and they again became involved in distress; but having resumed their subscriptions in the year 1824, they subsisted in comfort until the panic, which quite destroyed all vestiges of the plan of 1819......Wages have been declining during the last four years, and the framework-knitters having no resource but parishes, have suffered much distress."

Jackson’s political sympathies were not always with the reformers as many were also employers espousing laissez faire economic principles. In 1822 he argued that political reform by itself was inadequate and even useless. So long as 'the principle of gain' alone ruled commerce, demand would fluctuate, men would be tempted to work at an underprice and wages would drop.

In 1822, the Framework Knitters launched out into an experiment in Co-operative production. With a warehouse in Cank Street, the society bought worsted yarn and manufactured hosiery. In return for a salary, Jackson acted as storekeeper, accountant and organised the manufacture. This lasted until the spring of 1823, when the enterprise was overtaken by debt. This probably discredited Jackson, because he seems to have temporarily lost his position and influence, as the union was re-established.

However by 1830, he was once again leading framework knitters in a strike for better conditions. He criticised the Reform Bill of 1831 for not going far enough and was attacked, by John Seal for attempting to sow division between middle and working class reformers and for his support for the Tory candidate in the 1826 elections.

Following the Liberal rise to municipal power in 1835, Jackson was appointed as Keeper of the Town Hall and in this post he passed the last years of his life writing letters to the press chiefly advocating free trade.  In March 1840, he became secretary of the Leicester Working Men’s Anti-Corn Law Association which claimed 750 members and the antipathy of the Shakespearean Chartists. He address this call for repeal of the Corn Laws to the local landowners:

The sun and the rain, and the dews of heaven, while you are sleeping, while going your journies of pleasure, and while feasting upon the rich viands of this and every other clime, and drinking the choicest wine, are causing your corn and grass to crow, and your cattle to thrive; but the poor stocking makers of this town and county are compelled rise early and sit up late, and toil incessantly through the day, for the scanty sum 6s. or 7s. per week, and though they would able to obtain much larger remuneration for their labour by being allowed to exchange the articles of their manufacture for the agricultural produce of other countries, your avarice says they shall not.

Sources: Leicester Journal, 21st  May 1830, A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, Leicester 1954, Leicestershire Mercury, 9th April 1842


Barnett Janner

Born: 1892, died: 1982 (Liberal and Labour Party)

Barnett Janner won scholarships to the Barry County School and to the University of Wales. After he qualified as a solicitor, he served with the artillery in the First World War in France and Belgium and was gassed. From 1931-35, he was the Liberal MP for Whitechapel and was selected for West Leicester in 1938. At that time, he was opposed the policy of non-intervention in the Spanish civil war and was very aware of the menace of fascism.

He was elected in 1945 and remained a City MP until 1970, when he stood down to enable his son Greville (11 July 1928 -19 December 2015) to be selected at the last moment. Barnett Janner was a member of the British Board of Deputies, an expert on the intricate Rent Acts and worked out the Labour Party’s policy on legal aid to the poor. He was awarded freedom of the City in 1971.

Greville Janner went on to serve 27 years in the House of Commons and then as a member of the House of Lords. Unfortunately there is very little in his career to warrant his inclusion on this site as a 'radical.' He was never a frontbencher, Janner was particularly known for his work on Select Committees and was associated with a number of Jewish organisations including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, of which he was chairman from 1978 to 1984, and being prominent in the field of education about the Holocaust.

Allegations that he had sexually abused children were made in 1991 but Greville Janner denied them and no action was taken. The allegations re-emerged shortly before Janner's death, and although the Crown Prosecution Service considered that there was enough evidence to merit prosecution, they decided that a prosecution would not be in the public interest as Janner had been diagnosed as suffering from dementia.


Dennis Jennett

Born 13th April 1882, Leicester, died: 3rd  August 1932, Cleethorpes

Dennis Jennett was the son of the professional boxer Mick Jennett and lived at 58 Charnwood Street. He started work as a 'sprigging lad' in the boot and shoe trade  but at the age of 15, in 1897, he enlisted in the Royal Navy. He served for five years aboard ships such as HMS Impregnable and HMS Royal Sovereign. His rebellious character is reflected in his service history which records that he was put in the cells on more than one occasion, once for refusing duty and another time for desertion. Having suffered a hernia, the much tattooed 5'6" seaman was invalided out of the service in 1903 before his period of service ended. The next year, aged 22 he married Amelia Potter. Two years later she summoned him for desertion, he claimed he was at sea working as merchant seaman. Amelia said she had no money from him and had to go to work to support herself and her child.

Jennet returned to Leicester, but was out of work. In 1908, he spoke on behalf of the unemployed when the Right to Work Committee met with the mayor to press for a work scheme for the unemployed. The following year he emerged as leader of the Leicester 'land-grabbers' whose slogan was the 'Land is for all.' In Nov 1909, a group of unemployed men took possession of a vacant plot of Corporation land in Walnut street and set up camp, whilst another group were reportedly digging a piece of land near the Cricket ground in Aylestone Road. Jennett reportedly told the mayor that  he would:
rather go to the House of Correction than to the Workhouse, for at the House of Correction one was treated as a man. As a protest, the men had made their made up their minds that that they would not go the Work house or register their names at the Distress Committee, knowing how hopeless their case was.

Apparently the unemployed had come to the conclusion that the only way solve the unemployed problem was to solve it themselves and were asking the Council for assistance to work the land. Jennett described the labour test as an abominable and degrading system... he wished to reminded the Mayor that:  while the grass was growing, the horse was starving. The men were not clamouring for themselves, but for their wives and children. I want to live, I don’t want to die by slow starvation...

The Leicester Chronicle urged that in view of their impromptu boxing bouts and concerts at night, the Land-grabbers should be 'moved on.' Internal dissent seems to have led to the Leicester land-grabbers.

In 1911, Jennett with two other men was charged with stealing 180 dozen hose, valued at £90, from a factory along. He pleaded guilty. Evidence was given that Jennett and his family were living in poverty first in Rathbone Place and then in Calais Street and did not even have a table, Jennet told the court that one of his children was very ill. He had a previous conviction in 1909 for stealing two loaves of bread from a poor law relieving officer as a protest against the Poor Law. The police gave evidence that Jennett's role in the land-grabbers activity had caused him to loose his work.

The recorder said he felt sorry for Jennett and sentenced him to six calendar months in prison whilst Freeman, who received the stolen goods, got 15 months and was to be deported as an undesirable alien. In court and on the 1911 census  Jennett's occupation was given as a ship's stoker in the merchant services. Whilst in prison, his young daughters are listed as being patients in the North Evington Poor Law Infirmary. Soon after he was released, he was accused of assaulting a landlord's agent and gave his occupation as a hawker.

Sometime after, he must have moved to London, because it was from there on  25th August 1914, just weeks after war was declared, that he enlisted in the army. He gave his occupation as a shoe maker. Two years later, in November 1916, the Police Gazette listed him as a deserter from the Royal Hampshire Regiment giving his full description including tattoos. In June 1917 he was court marshalled in Portsmouth. yet he deserted again in July 1917 from Bognor and yet again in November 1917 and was still at large in March 1918. As yet no further details of what happened to him during the war have emerged, except that it was said that he actively participated in unrest in the army. This may explain his relatively early demobilisation. He settled in Islington where he sought work as a shoemaker. By early 1919, Jennett was heavily involved in the Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers (FDDSS) and in May 1919 he was one of those arrested at a demonstration at Constitution Hill after it was baton charged by the police.

He went on to become one of the most prominent figures in the Islington Unemployed Council, becoming chairman of the committee. He also became secretary of the London District of Unemployed Associations and was involved in disrupting the 1920 Labour Party conference in Westminster. During a discussion on unemployment at the 1920 Labour Party conference he ran into the gallery and addressed the delegates in stentorian voice, asking for the recognition of the Russian Soviet Government. He was constantly interrupted, and shouted: "You are a crowd of dirty, lazy fakers."

In January 1920, a spokesman for the Central Council of Unemployed Committee, he told the Asociated Press  that:

75% of the London unemployed are ex-servicmen. We are not out for loot, but we want work provided at once. Deputations to cabinet ministers result in vague promises and don't help us.  Relieving acute distress is by no means our full programme. We want to reshape the relations between capital and labour. Workers of all trades must be admitted to control of enterprises. We propose to make this our main issue and get all workers to adopt this idea. This, we realise, is not attainable without a hard fight. We a re certain there will be a big social upheaval this winter.

Jennett played a leading part in the occupation of the Essex Road public library in Nov-Dec 1920. Following its recapture by the police, he led a raiding party which intended to seize Islington Town Hall in January 1921. The attempt came to grief when they were met by the police, who had been tipped off, and were waiting in the Town Hall. There was an affray, nineteen unemployed were arrested and thirteen police injured. According to the police, one of those arrested had a letter of detailed instructions signed by 'Jennett of Islington.' Jennett was subsequently arrested and charged with breaking the peace, though he challenged the police to prove that he had written the note. Much was made in the press that his military medical record noted 'mental instability.' He was ordered to prison for three months or to give two sureties of £25 each: however, the magistrate refused sureties from the chairman of the board of guardians and a fellow guardian.

Late in August, he negotiated with the Guardians in Islington and obtained their agreement to pay 25/- a week in outdoor relief for a man and wife. This compromise was widely reported in the national press and criticised for giving many families a larger income weekly than they would have if the head of the family were fully employed.  By September, he had moved back to Leicester and was  living at 6 Willow Cottages, Taylor Street, in the heart of Leicester's slums.  Rowland Walton described him a a very forceful person.

According to police intelligence, Jennett had come with others, from the N.U.W.M. in London to give help to Leicester's unemployed. However, Jennett maintained that he had come to Leicester to set up as a market trader, since his children were living in the district. On 30th September 1921, Jennett led a 1,000 strong crowd which marched on Rupert Street offices of the Guardians to demand that a scheme of outdoor relief be put into operation. The unemployed were met with police truncheons and many were left bleeding in the roadway. An eyewitness described Jennett's arrest:
As he was walking away, a policeman walked up behind him and struck him with his baton. He lifted his baton for a second blow, but it was not necessary; the man was down and out.

Jennett was subsequently charged with assaulting a police officer. The inscription of the press photo of the event describes it as a 'baton arrest. 'The police clearly regarded Jennett as a dangerous subversive and their over reaction to a largely peaceful march is probably directly attributable to Jennett's presence.

In the subsequent protests over the treatment of the unemployed, shop windows were broken and the police station surrounded by those demanding his release. In court, the police gave evidence that he had had been to prison for a month for deserting his wife and family and had been bound over for stealing two loaves from Poor Law offices. He had been sentenced for six months for warehouse breaking and had been arrested twice as a deserter from the army. They also alleged that he had been was connected with the attempt of a crowd to force its way into the House of Commons and the attempt to occupy Islington Town Hall. The police also said that on February 23rd 1921, in Hyde Park, Jennett had proposed a raid on Lyons' Corner House, but this did not materialise. Worse, he had been “associated with a Jewess on the Clyde in preaching Bolshevist ideas.”

Jennett was sent to prison for one month in the second division. He was reported to have replied to the sentence with the comment: “Roll on the revolution.” The is no evidence as to Jennett's political allegiances, but circumstantial evidence suggests he was in the Socialist Labour Party. A joint work scheme for the unemployed was promptly instituted by the Council and Guardians soon after the disturbances.

In January 1924, he was thrown out of a Railwaymen's meeting Rechabites Hall in Leicester and charged with disorderly conduct. He was accused of standing in a crowd and shouting. Jennett claimed that he was a 'marked man' and had an altercation with the stewards. The police told the court that he 14 previous convictions. Jennett then seems to have dropped out of the political limelight. In 1927, Jennett now a council tenant, was summoned before court for owing £3 to the Corporation. Jennett told the court that he actually owed £3 10s. He explained that the Council had refused to supply him with slot gas meter, but said they would put in an ordinary meter, payment to be made quarterly. He refused as he considered it unfair to make workmen pay a heavy quarterly bill when they could pay for the gas they got it with a slot meter. In consequence he went without light for three months. When then the Corporation put in a slot meter, and he started paying rent; and was willing, having made his protest and got what wanted, to pay off the arrears by instalment. The judge agreed.

Sources: Leicester Daily Post, 31st March 1906, Nottingham Evening Post, 6 November 1909, Leicester Chronicle, 13 November 1909, Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham News, 5th January 1911, Leicester Post 6th July 1911, The Police Gazette, 14th Novmeber 1916, Dundee Courier, 30 December 1920, The Evening Independent, 13th Jan, 1921, Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 25th Jan 1921, Evening Telegraph, 30th August 1921, Leicester Pioneer 30th September 1921, Leicester Evening Mail, 1st, 6th October 1921, Leicester Mercury, 6th October 1921, Nottingham Journal, 28th January 1924Yorkshire Evening Post, 8th April 1927, PRO CAB 24/128 Special Report No. 23 Peter Kingsford, The Hunger Marchers in Britain 1920-1940, Ken Weller: 'Don't be a soldier!' The Radical Anti-war Movement in North London 1914-1918


 

William Jones

Born: Cosby, died: January 1855 aged 47 (Chartist & poet)

Sons of poverty assemble,
Ye whose hearts with woe are riven.
Let the guilty tyrants tremble,
Who your hearts such pain have given.
We will never from the shrine of truth be driven.

From Spread The Charter far and Wide, 1842

William Jones was an active Chartist, prolific poet and musician. He was a Primitive Methodist and worked as a framework knitter first making socks and then making gloves. The latter being generally better-paid work. In 1845, he gave evidence to the Commission of Enquiry into the Conditions of the Framework Knitters. In his evidence he describes his working conditions and the workers’ grievances over frame-rents and middle-men.

The 1851 census describes him as a ‘framework knitter and poet.’ His wife was a ‘Day School Teacher’ who took in stockingers’ children as soon as they could walk. However, once they were about five they were taken out of her school and put to work. He did not want his son to be a stockinger and the census describes him as a 21-year-old bricklayer.

He contributed to the Shakespearean Chartist Hymn Book in 1842 and assisted Thomas Cooper at his Adult Sunday School. He contributed poems to Cooper’s publications, to Jonathan Barstow’s ‘Chartist Pilot,’ the English Chartist Circular and to the Northern Star. In 1843, he was active in support of the Leicester Democratic Hall of Science. His criticism of O’Connor’s ill fated land scheme in 1847, lost him some friends, but he was ultimately vindicated when the scheme collapsed.

In 1848, he edited a new version of the Chartist Hymn book. He also contributed poems to the national Chartist press and also to the local Liberal papers. In 1850, he wrote an article on The Factory System vs. Frame Charges in The Leicestershire Movement arguing against the iniquities of frame charges.

By 1851, with some other local Chartists leaders, he had reached an accommodation with William Biggs and other middle class radicals who wanted an extension of the franchise. He was now a respected local poet, with stable employment with a sympathetic master. He published two books of poetry: The Spirit; Or A Dream in The Woodland (1850) and another in 1853.

Sources: Draft of a letter to the Leicestershire Mercury, Leicestershire Records Office, DE 2964/32/1, Report of he Commission on the Condition of the Framework Knitters, 1845 p22, Leicestershire Mercury, 11th October 1851, 3rd & 10th February 1855, Thomas Cooper, The Life of Thomas Cooper, 1872


 

William Jones

(Chartist lecturer)

William Jones was from Liverpool and was sent to Leicester in 1842 in Thomas Cooper’s absence. (not to be confused with the local poet and the Welsh Chartist transported to Australia) Following the general strike in July/August 1842, he was arrested for using seditious language and was put on trial in April 1843. He was brought before Sir John Gurney KC (Baron Gurney) who in 1835 had become the last judge in England to sentence two men to be hanged for sodomy.

According to Gammage, the sedition with which he was charged, was "such as no unprejudiced jury would have construed into guilt; but he committed the additional offence of delivering one of the most brilliant defences ever addressed to a jury ; it lasted for four hours, and its eloquent diction even extorted the praise of the Daily Times." Gammage compared Gurney's partial conduct to that of the imfamous Judge Jeffries.

Jones told the court that he had always advocated peace and order, but it was true he had denounced the Government as tyrannical. Baron Gurney, with great vehemence, "Then you have done exceedingly wrong..."
Jones, "That was my conviction, my lord."
Baron Gurney, "You may hold your convictions as you please sir, but you have no right to hold out to the people that the Government is tyrannical, that's a crime."

According to Gammage: "A servile jury bowed to the ill-tempered caprice of the tyrannical judge, and delivered in a verdict of guilty."

After the trial the Morning Chronicle asked, "Which is the judge, and which the criminal?" And it remarked, "Had Jones been the most unprincipled agitator, or even the most daring traitor that ever infested society, the treatment which he is reported to have received from Baron Gurney, would not the less violently have shocked every received notion of judicial decorum."

When Jones, the Chartist, was taken prison, he entrusted his best clothes to Jonathan Bairstow. On his release Jones asked for his suit back only to be fobbed off by Bairstow who told him it had been accidentally damaged by water. It turned out, however, that Bairstow had worn the suit threadbare. Jones later emigrated to America, but returned to Liverpool.

Sources: Northern Star 1st April 1843, R. G. Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement 1837-1854, 1894


   
   
   
   
   
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