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Arnold Wakefield

(Labour Party)

Arnold Wakefield was a pattern maker and City councillor from 1955-67.


John William Wale

Born: Leicester 7th March 1885 (I.L.P. & Labour Party)

J.W. Wale joined the I.L.P. and was elected to the City Council in 1927.  For many years he was chairman of the Parks Committee, being in charge of the City’s Coronation celebrations. He was twice chairman of the Labour Group and was its secretary for a number of years. He became Lord Mayor in 1949. John Wale was the proprietor of Wale’s china shop which was originally on High Street, moving to premises in Hotel Street after the war. (this was the same building used in the 1840s as the Owenite Social Institution .

Sir Joshua Walmsley MP

Born: 29 September1794, died 1871 (Liberal)

Joshua Walmsley was an early advocate of the repeal of the duty on corn. He worked with Richard Cobden, John Bright in the Anti-Corn Law League. He was president of the Liverpool Mechanics' Institute in 1826. At this time, he got to know George Stephenson  and joined in purchasing the Snibston estate, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, where rich seams of coal were found. In 1835, Walmsley was elected a member of the Liverpool town council and worked to improve the police, sanitation and education of the city. He became Mayor in November 1838, and was knighted on the occasion of Queen Victoria's marriage. Walmsley favoured adult male suffrage and started the National Reform Association and was its president and chief organiser for many years.

With Lord Palmerston, Walmsley unsuccessfully contested Liverpool for the Liberals in June 1841. At at the general election of 1847, he was elected M.P. for Leicester with fellow radical Richard Gardner. Both were unseated the following year as a result of a Tory petition to Parliament, alleging bribery by the MPs' agents.  In 1849 he was returned as M.P. for Bolton in Lancashire, but in 1852 exchanged that seat for Leicester, where his efforts on behalf of the framework knitters had made him popular. Despite being branded as Chartists by the Whig Leicester Chronicle, both Gardner and Walmsley were elected again in 1852, and retained their seats, notwithstanding a second petition by the Whigs and Tories.

In 1856, he put a motion before the House of Commons proposing the opening of the British Museum and the National Gallery Sunday afternoons. He told the commons that:

the exclusion of the working-classes from the sources of instruction and enjoyment, on the afternoon of Sunday—during the only few hours the poor man could call his own—did not come with a good grace from those who, themselves having all things richly to enjoy on every day of the week, yet opened their clubs and news rooms, enjoyed their pictures, their statues, their parks and gardens, ........, held their Sunday musical soirées and réunions.

This and his advocacy of a national secular education was used to divide his support on religious grounds. His motion had unleashed fury from the Leicester Sabbatarians. For them, Sunday observance was paramount and though shops and pubs were open on Sunday, they were hostile to anything that might compete with church or chapel going.

During the election of 1857, the evangelising clergy, led by J.F. Winks, J.P. Mursell and others, swung their support behind the  Liberal churchman John Harris. On Friday, 27th March, the nomination day, a crowd of variously reported as 12-20,000 people came to the Market Place to hear the candidates and question them.  John Markham was cheered when he asked Mr. Harris why was it a moral offence against God's holy law for working men to enter a museum on Sunday, whilst 80 people were employed in Leicester every Sunday on steam engines and at the gas works. He also asked Harris if he would originate a Sabbath Observance Bill to restrain bishops and clergymen of all denominations, from employing maid servants, carriages and cabs on a Sunday. At the end of the speeches, a vote by a show of hands was taken. According to the Mercury the:

‘greater part of the assembled multitude voted in favour of Sir Joshua Walmsley and Mr. Biggs….. the number of hands held up for Mr. Harris presented by far the most miserable minority that has ever characterised a contested election in Leicester for many years.’

Despite Walmsley’s overwhelming support, a poll of those entitled to vote was taken the next day. Although the radicals (and the usually Tory publicans), gave their support to Walmsley and Biggs, the anger of the evangelising clergy, tipped the balance in favour of the Whig wing of the party. Harris won with 700 Liberal and 900 Conservative votes, gaining a majority of 178. In a speech from the balcony of the Bell Hotel, Walmsley told the crowd:

‘Yesterday, nine out of ten of the men of Leicester held up their hands for me; and what would have been the result today if you, the hard- working, honest-hearted men of Leicester, if your votes had had weight in the balance? May this be a lesson you will never forget. Remember they have defeated the man of your choice.’

There was popular anger at the way the election had been stolen. Bands of framework knitters paraded the streets, shouting Sir Joshua's name. Some of Harris’ supporters were attacked and harassed and the police were used to clear Humberstone Gate and a window in the hotel used by Harris was broken. After his defeat, Walmsley’s supporters organised a massive demonstration, which was more like a victory parade. It culminated in the presentation of a testimonial to Sir Joshua signed by 6,750 women, and by 5,665 male electors and non-electors. The demonstration was photographed by Frith the newly established Leicester photographer.

The Testimonial contained a graceful palm tree, beneath which stands lovely woman presenting a scroll: the ladies' address. Her right hand supports flag, surmounted the cap of liberty, and behind her reposed a noble lion. The inscription on the face of a piece of rock beneath the figure ran: "Presented to Sir Joshua Walmsley by the Ladies of Leicester, with address signed 6,750 of their number, June 23rd, 1857."  The shield of Leicester is also judiciously introduced behind the lion. elegant arrangement of artificial flowers surmounts the whole, and being placed beneath lofty glass shade upon a cushion of chaste bead work, it has a very rich, the same time light and elegant appearance. It contained an address by the Electors and Non-Electors, and that of the Women of Leicester which was .   engrossed and illuminated on vellum  and contained  in rich carved frames. The testimonial was exhibited to the public at the Three Crowns Hotel. On the first day it was visited around 20,000 people.

After his defeat, Walmsley more or less retired from public life, remaining president of the National Sunday League from 1856 to 1869.

Sources: Leicestershire Mercury,
3rd June 1848, 23rd  February 1856, 28th March, 4th April, 20th & 27th June 1857,
23rd February 1861, A History of the County of Leicester: volume 4: The City of Leicester (1958), Ned Newitt: Leicester's Victorian Infidels, 2019

John Tudor Walters

Born: 25th February 1866, Pontypool, Monmouthshire, Wales, died: 6th July 1933 (Liberal)

John Tudor Walters was an architect and surveyor. He was elected to the Town Council for Wycliffe Ward in 1895 and became a champion of municpal working class housing. In October 1896, he moved that the Council undertake a housing programme for the working classes. This resulted in Leicester's first council housing which was built in Winifred Street. He believed that when the Council had:

demonstrated their ability to house poor people decently, and upon safe economic principles, further extensions would not be difficult..... the next step would be to put into operation the powers contained in the Housing of the Working Classes Act and abolish the courts and slums, and build suitable dwellings in their place.

As the scheme progressed, Walters' initial optimism at being able to provided working class housing at no cost to the ratepayer was found to be misplaced. The extra costs were blamed on additional Government requirements. The unwillingness of the Town Council to subsidise another housing scheme stopped further council housing from being built until after 1919. The first tenants moved into the Winifred Street flats during September 1900.

Walters was the co-designer of Leicester's Y.M.C.A. building and was responsible for developing Brightside and Bannerman Roads. He was a friend of the Wakerley and Sawday families and was elected Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside at the 1906 general election. He was knighted in 1912. He was a supporter of Women's Suffrage and presided over meetings on the subject  in Leicester. He also supported the Humberstone Garden Suburb.

In the 1880s, he had married Mary Eliza Hill from Leicester and settled at 42 Springfield Road. By 1901, he was living at 1 Granville Road  and he then moved to Glen Road, Oadby. He was prominent in Wesleyian Methodist circles.

The Tudor Walters Report on housing was a produced by Parliament's Tudor Walters Committee in November 1918. Its recommendation set the standards for council house design for the next 90 years. See:

Tudor Walters served as Paymaster-General in the Government of David Lloyd George from 1919 to 1922 and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1919. He lost his seat at Sheffield at the 1922 general election. He tried unsuccessfully to get back into the House of Commons in 1923 at Pudsey and Otley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He did however return to Parliament at the 1929 general election as Liberal MP for the Cornish seat of Penryn and Falmouth. He was once again briefly Paymaster-General from September to November 1931 under Ramsay MacDonald. He stood down from parliament at the 1931 general election.

Sources: Census returns, Leicester Chronicle, 10 October 1896, 6 February, 22 May 1897 & 17 October 1908.

R.V. Walton

Born: 21st Jan 1894, died: Feb 1986 (B.S.P., Communist Party, Co-op Party)

Prior to World War One,  Rowland Walton was a member of the British Socialist Party and claimed have first attended the Secular Hall in 1912. He served as a private in the machine gun corps from 1916 and in the early 1920s, he was a Trades Council delegate from the Leatherworkers union.  Somewhere about this time, he became a member of the Communist Party. He was a CP local election candidate and in 1932, he stood in Newton ward against T.F. Richards gaining just 105 votes. That year he had been censured by the Trades Council, by 30 votes to 15, for conducting a meeting in opposition to the Trades Council's official May Day platform. During the 1930s, he was very active in the anti-fascist movement, though by the mid thirties he had left the Communist Party. In 1937, he was elected as president of the Leicester Co-operative Party.

In 1946, the Leicester Labour Party rejected the request of the Co-op Party to affiliate since it fear that "communist tendencies were prevalent in the Co-operative Party" and that R.V. Walton was "embroiled in Communism" and Labour did not want to allow Communist in through the back door."

R.V. Walton was active in the Friends of Russia and similar organisations and more inclined to eulogize the Soviet Union than many in the Communist Party. He was still on the Trades Council in the 1970s. Although he was an active member of Leicester Secular Society for decades, when he died his wife gave him a religious funeral.

Sources: author’s personal knowledge, Nicole Robertson, The Co-operative Movement and Communities in Britain, 1914-1960. OHA interview with Louie Croxtall, 1994.

Benjamin Warner

Born: Leicester 1848, died 1918 (Socialist League)

Ben Warner was the son of the local Chartist leader and framework knitter Joseph Warner. At the age of 12, he was working as a winder and according to one of his descendants, he married at 17 and his his wife taught him to read; he then got a taste for it. Although originally a framework knitter, by 1901, he was working as a woollen glove hand.

During the 1880s, Warner, Homes, Barclay & Chaplin were a group of Socialists active and prominent in the hosiery union. Warner was a member of the executive of Leicester Area Hosiery Union and later became its president. He was also its delegate to the Trades Council. He was a member of the Socialist League. Although originally a framework knitter, by 1901, he was working as a woollen glove hand.

At a dinner held to commemorate the Paris Commune, those present (including Tom Barclay and Jimmy Holmes) resolved to set a Socialist Club in Leicester. This became the Labour Club and the base of the I.L.P. By this time, in the early1890s, he had become an anarchist and spoke on the platform with George Cores at a rival Anarchist May Day meeting to that organised by the Trades Council in 1894. He was a member of the Leicester Secular Society. He opposed the Boer war and spoke for the The Leicester Society for the Promotion of Peace in the Market Place.

 His son Walter, born c1879, was the manager the Secular Hall for a short time after 1910. During her teens, Ben's daughter, Clara born c1875, was active in the Socialist League. She too became a manager of the Secular Hall.

Sources: Leicester Chronicle, 12th may 1894, 26th May 1900, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, family members.

Joseph Warner

Born 1804 Burton, Leicestershire, died 1867 (Working Men's Chartist Association)

In 1848, Joseph Warner formed the Working Men's Chartist Association which claimed 300 members. It was at odds with the main Leicester Chartist Council and the moves to create an alliance between the middle class reformers and the working class Chartists.

Warner told a meeting in Burbage that he recommended organization to obtain the Charter, assuring his hearers that

they never could nor never would obtain their rights by moral force. He had no confidence whatever in moral force; he had vowed to eternal heaven that he would never preach it any more. They might preach their moral force until the sun and stars should set no more, but that would never get the Charter. It must be got by something else - by another power; but (he added) "I know there is a gagging bill, and I will not tell you what."

In June 1848, the Working Men's Charter Association issued a leaflet called for a demonstration which was disowned by the Chartist Council and opposed by the Chartist Henry Green

In 1866, he was a speaker on one of he platforms at the Reform League demonstration in Leicester in favour of extending the franchise. He told the crowd:

They who accumulated the wealth and manned their fleets — (and were told they were good and trusted friends when they wanted them for the army and navy)— they who carried their merchandise from shore to shore and from pole to pole — they who brought the coal from the depths of the earth, and precious stones to decorate the sons and daughters of loyalty — were not allowed to have a solitary voice in the making of the laws! He asked any man who understood and could read the English alphabet, whether that was a just state of things?

In 1867, a Mr Warner gave this creason why the Working Classses did not attend church:

Mr Warner (framework-knitter), considered a silken cord was drawn across places of worship, beyond which working-men must not pass, and that the Ministry was for the middle-class, and not for them. If the working-classes were striving for liberty, the ministers always combined with the wealthy classes against them. ("No, no.") The clergy of the Church of England always set themselves in array against the working-classes. How could they then approach the temple of God when they saw the silken line drawn, the crimson cushion, and the silks and satins, which made it appear more like a theatre than a sanctuary for the worship of God.

Sources: Leicestershire Mercury, 10th, 17th June 1848, Leicester Chronicle 3rd November 1866, 9th March 1867


Jack Watson

Born c1906, died Spain December 1937

Jack Watson was a shoe repairer and one time chauffeur, of 9, Gopsall Street who went to Spain with Fred Sykes to fight with the International Brigade. He was killed in December 1938 on the Pozoblanco front, aged 32. The Jack Watson recorded on the Internal Brigade's Roll of Honour may be incorrect or refer to a different Jack Watson.

Sources: Leicester Evening Mail 16th December 1937

Fred T. Watson

Died: October 1989 aged 97 (Labour Party, WEA)

Fred Watson was a conscientious objector during the First World War and was sent to Wakefield and then to Dartmoor Prison. There were so many in conscientious objectors in Dartmoor that an ILP branch was established in the prison which he joined. He came to Leicester and lodged with the George and Ruth Banton. For many years he worked for the co-operative Wigston Hosiers and was active in the Wigston Magna Adult school.

In 1927, became district secretary of the WEA and was still the honorary secretary of the WEA in the 1970s. He was a member of the City Council for 13 years, a Labour whip and was chairman of the education committee for five years.

In 1948, he was named as a co-respondent in a divorce case. When he lost his appeal for a new trial, he announced his resignation from the City Council. He said:  "This step became inevitable in view of the attitude of the Leicester Labour Party." He was a director of Enderby Co-operative Society and was agent for the Harborough Constituency. He continued to help out at Vaughan College until a week before his death.

Sources: Leicester Mercury, 15th September 1958 & 19th October 1989, Market Harborough Advertiser and Midland Mail, 14th March 1941, Nottingham Journal, 24th January 1948.

Percy C. Watts

Born: Leicester, died: February 1985 aged 87 years (Labour Party)

After being demobilised from the Royal Flying Corps in 1919, Percy Watts joined the Midland Railway and served as a main-line driver for 44 years. He was secretary of Leicester No 4 Branch of the NUR for 25 years and became president of the Trades Council 1956. In 1953, he was elected to the City Council and represented Humberstone Ward until he was defeated in 1960. He returned to the council as representative of Latimer ward in 1964 and became an Alderman in 1970.

In 1953, he attempted to persuade the City Council to allow organised games to be played in the parks on Sunday. His motion was defeated on a free vote. He was a life member of the Trades Council. He became Lord Mayor in 1971 and died in his home at Lily Marriott House.

Roy Theodore Watts

Born: 1914, died: Spain 25th September 1938 (I.L.P. & Communist Party)

Before moving to Leicester, Roy Watts had been on Portsmouth Trades Council, chairman of the Portsmouth and District National Clarion Cycling Club and a member of the I.L.P. Guild of Youth. He later joined the Young Communist League and worked in Leicester as a furnishing salesman at the Co-op, lodging with R.V. Walton. He was one of over two thousand Britons who volunteered for the International Brigade who fought for the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil war. Details of his time in Spain are hazy. He arrived in probably, on foot in Figueras  and was taken to hospital for fever. We know he was wounded and once taken prisoner. A letter addressed 'Albacete' from May '38 was almost certainly sent from somewhere in Catalonia whilst the Republican Army recovered from it's horrendous withdrawal at the hands of the Nationalist onslaught in Aragon.

In a letter to R.V. Walton, (with whom he had lodged in Leicester) he describes some of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War:

“I have served and been into action with the anti-aircraft artillery, infantry and transmission units. I have been in most of the territory in loyalist hands, and was taken prisoner once. Apart from a slight touch of fever and a small piece of shrapnel, which took me to hospital three times, I have so far come through it all comparatively unscratched.”  

“I have learnt to love this country. The beauty of it is breathtaking. It is a sickening experience to pass through these lovely Spanish towns after the Fascist shellings and bombings. I know that such an experience would soon stimulate those at home to oust those responsible for aiding aggression and war. Since our advances, the Fascist fury seems to know no bounds. I had the good luck to secure a copy of the Leicester Mercury the other day and I noticed that a Leicester Fascist had challenged you to a debate......War being what it is, one cannot make any forecast with certainty, but I expect and hope to be back in England by Christmas.”

Even the date of his death during the Ebro offensive is unclear - with some reports claiming it was on the last day of action (22nd/3rd Sept) and others whilst the Battalion was still in reserve, but suffering from terrible bombardment by German planes (20th Sept).

He was 24 years old when his was killed during the Battle of the Ebro. It was the International Brigades’ last action and they were withdrawn midway through the battle. There are different dates for his death. One report gives the dates as between 21-23rd September 1938, whilst another report suggests that he was killed on September 25th, in the Sierra de Caballs when a fascist plane scored a direct hit on his position. (Serra de Cavalls) This mountainous area in Catalonia was the scene of bloody battles  In nearby Serra de Pàndols stands a monument to those who died in the battles on Hill 705 during the Ebro offensive.

Sources: Leicester Mercury, 5th April & 6th October 1938, XV International Brigade website, Ady Pole, Ned Newitt interview with R.V. Walton, January 1981

Susanna Watts

Born: Leicester 1768, died: Leicester1842 (Anti-slavery campaigner)

She was the youngest daughter of John and Joan Watts of Danetts Hall. Her father died when she was one year old  and the family were plagued by financial difficulties and eventually had to sell the Hall.

By the time she was 15, Susannah had to find a way to support herself and her mother. She was able to scrape a precarious living, relying upon an annuity and what little she could earn from her writings and translations.  She had published pamphlets and poems from an early age and she wrote all her life, mostly in unfashionable genres, and to support good causes. She pictured herself as a slave to publishers, "fagging and scribbling whole summers & winters." She wrote in many genres - poetry (some for children), hymns, fiction, translation, and a guide-book, as well as compiling an anthology and editing a periodical. In 1804, she penned the first guide to Leicester: A Walk Through Leicester.

 Susanna was a woman of strong convictions. In 1822 in association with her friend Eleanor Frewen Turner, she was conspicuous in her support for the Leicester Ladies Committee in raising funds for the ‘distressed Irish’. Later the two friends would again collaborate in efforts to establish the Leicester Lunatic Asylum.

With Elizabeth Heyrick, she shared compassion for victims of social injustice and they undertook a crusade to bring about the abolition of slavery. They organised the Leicester boycott of sugar produced by slave owners in the West Indies. She visited local households and shops to persuade them not to use sugar produced in the Caribbean, claiming that, "abstinence from sugar would sign the death warrant of West Indian slavery."

They also worked on a periodical called 'The Humming bird; or, Morsels of Information, on the Subject of Slavery', which brought together different ideas on the antislavery moment. It was the Hummingbird that published Susannah's "Address to the Ladies of Great Britain, On Behalf of the Negro-Slaves, Particularly the Females,"

Susanna was evidently stung William Wilberforce's dislike of women campaigning against slavery. She countered the suggestion that she and her co-workers were ‘brazen-faced’ with an impressive retort:

On a Gentleman saying that,
Some ladies, who were zealous in the
Anti-Slavery Cause, were brazen faced.
Thanks for your thought – it seems to say.
When ladies walk in Duty’s way,
They should wear arms of proof;
To blunt the shafts of manly wit –
To ward off censure’s galling
And keep reproach aloof:-
And when a righteous cause demands
The labour of their hearts and hands,
Right onward they must pass,
Cas’d in strong armour, for the field –
With casque and corselet, spear and shield,
Invulnerable brass.

In 1833, she was involved in collecting signatures for the London Female Anti-Slavery Society’s nation wide petition against slavery. A note in her hand records that she succeeded in collecting 3,025 signatures from Leicester ‘time not allowing more’. That year, the Act for the Abolition of Slavery in the British Empire was finally passed, with effect from 1st August 1834. Twenty million pounds was allotted as compensation for former slave owners. When the Act came into effect, there were scenes of public rejoicing and street celebrations in Leicester. Susanna marked the occasion by writing and publishing a hymn of celebration. The proceeds from the sale of the hymn were to be used for rebuilding churches in Jamaica.

In 1828, she founded and conducted a charity called the "Society for the relief of indigent old age." It was based on the principle of "relieving the wants of that numerous class of our poor, who, sinking under the weight of old age, are reduced subsist upon an allowance too scanty to provide food, clothing, and lodging." She continued to administer this until 1840.

Susannah Watts was a staunch Anglican, but in 1841, she used her money to pay the church rates of the dissenters John Manning and  Albert Cockshaw (the founder of Leicestershire Mercury) who were refusing to pay. She believed the pursuit of dissenters over Church-rates was counter productive and she paid not just to save them from prison, but to avoid the creation of more church-rate martyrs.

Sources: Leicestershire Mercury, 22nd May, 1841, 19th February 1842, Leicester Chronicle, 12th January 1833, Shirley Aucott, Susanna Watts


Lily Webb (Ferguson)

Born c1894 (N.U.W.M.)

Lily Webb was active in the NUWM in the early 1930s. In March 1932, she was fined 5/- for distributing handbills protesting against the means test without the consent of the City Corporation  She told the court: “If this is an offence, I make no apology for breaking the law. This bye law has been used to prevent the unemployed fighting from against poverty and starvation.”


A. A. West (Fred)

Born: 3rd July 1873 (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

Fred West went to St Martins School and worked in the Boot and Shoe trade before becoming a municipal employee. During the First World War he supported  a ‘Peoples Peace.' He supported the Worker's Suffrage Association and told its 1916 Leicester conference that  "the flower of the young manhood had been taken for the battle-fields of Europe." In his opinion the flower of the young womanhood would be needed to fight the political fight. In 1927, he became president of the Trades Council.

Sources: Woman's Dreadnought, 2nd December 1916


Frederick Wheeler

Born Banbury, 1860

His father was a leather salesman and Wesleyan preacher from Banbury who came to Leicester with John Butcher, circa 1873. Father and son went to work at the CWS factory in Duns Lane, but Frederick soon left to work in the print trade. He also became a Wesleyan Methodist preacher and spent some years as an evangelist in London and was a life long abstainer and non-smoker. He became a union member at the age of 27, became president of the Typographical Society and president of the Trades Council in 1902. He was a delegate to the Labour Representation committee. He was opposed to high salaries of council officials, street betting and the 1905 Education Act. He was a Labour candidate for Spinney Hill.

Sources: Leicester Pioneer, Oct 12, 1902


Nanette Whitbread

Born:  died Bray, Co Wicklow, Ireland  May 29th. 2015 (Communist Party, Labour Party, Fabian Society)

Nanette Whitbread was one of a number of academics in Leicester who argued against selective education and made the intellectual case for comprehensive schooling. She began her career teaching history at the  Archway County Secondary School for Boys in North London. This school was the inspiration for, Edward Blishen's  acclaimed novel Roaring Boys: A Schoolmaster’s Agony, published in 1955. Nanette used to say that, when she was there, you could still identify many of the teachers described in the novel.

Following the end of her marriage to Maurice Whitbread, she came to Leicester and from 1966 taught at the City of Leicester School of Education which later became Scraptoft College. It was then that she began helping Brian Simon with the task of editing the progressive education magazine FORUM. She and Brian then worked on the journal together, each being responsible for alternate numbers, until Brian stood down in 1989.  Nanette then continued in her role as Co-Editor until she, in turn, stood down in the summer of 1996. Brian Simon wrote at the time that: True to the journal's original brief she has retained her faith in comprehensive education and its potentialities, bringing a sharp analytic mind to bear on the elucidation of its problems through thirty stormy years.

She wrote many articles on education for Forum and some for Marxism Today (How Abilities are Formed, May 1967 and Social Change, December 1977.  In 1972 her book The Evolution of the Nursery-Infant School was published and a review observed that her book shows that we need a fully comprehensive nursery and infant school provision in every place so that the democratic vision of Robert Owen and Susan Isaacs may be realised before this century reaches its last decades.

Nanette was concerned to develop a pedagogy for the non-streamed classroom, but was aware that the advances achieved by local authorities could be undermined by the state which wanted a return to selection. She wrote:

Education has a significant function in either ensuring consent to the status quo and hegemony of the ruling class or fostering the critical capacity of pupils and students, enhancing their self-image of capability so that they will have the confidence to work for their own success and for the transformation of society when they recognise both its injustice and its mutability.

In 1967, she was a founder member of the History of Education Society. Nanette was also a member of the Association of Teachers in Colleges and Departments of Education (ATCDE). In 1976 it merged with the Association of Teachers in Technical Institutions (ATTI), to form the National Association of Teachers in Further & Higher Education (NATFHE) For a number of years Nan was the only representative from the East Midlands  on the National Executive Committee and in 1986, she became the Association's  national president. Despite her left wing credentials, she was seen by some to take the side of the more cautious majority on the executive rather than that of the emerging grass roots radicals. In the 1980s, she was a member of the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers

She joined the Labour Party and became a longstanding member of Harborough CLP Management Committee from the early 1980s until the 2000s.  For many years she lived in East Langton.

Sources: FORUM, Volume 15 Number 2, Spring 1973, Volume 39, No. 1, 1997, Volume 58, Number 2, 2016, Marxism Today December 1977


George White

Born: ? (Leicester Union of the Working Classes)

George White was the chairman of the Leicester Union of the Working Classes during the early 1830s which campaigned for universal suffrage and for the rights of trade unions. It described the 1832 Reform Act was the "Whig Reform Fraud." In a letter to the Poor Man's Guardian George White  wrote:

The manufacturers of this town have for a series of years oppressed and impoverished their workmen by giving them miserably low wages; to counteract this, we entered the Trades’ Union, the principles of which are to cultivate good understanding amongst the working classes, and to improve their morals. Through the medium of this Union, we have in small degree ameliorated our condition gaining an advance of wages. The masters have since come to a resolution to break up the Union, and have issued hand bills, stating that they will discharge every individual in their employment who will not sign declaration against the Union. They have since acted on that resolution, in consequence of which there are 1,300 out of employment; we therefore solicit you to use your influence among your friends, and the working classes of the metropolis, to assist us in opposing the phalanx that are arrayed against us. In addition to the manufacturers, we have the Corporation (whose character this time is well known) opposed to us.

The Leicester Union of the Workings Classes met at the Crown and Cushion either on Churchgate of Belgrave Gate. In 1832, White moved this resolution:

That we hold with horror and detestation the sanguinary attempts made by the Whig government to support the "Irish Chuch Establishment," and pledge ourselves to use out utmost exertion for the abolition of that blood stained scourge of Ireland, the Tithe Laws.

Other members of the LUWC were John Digby, James Hart, Mr Weeks, J. Colley, R.A. Miller, George Sparks, George Abell Barsby, G. Hughes and Daniel Brooks the secretary.

Sources: Poor Man's Guardian, 17th Novemebr 1832, 23 February 1833, 2nd  November 1833,

George ‘Sticky’ White

Born: 1866, Leicester, died 1921 (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

George White was the son of a boot and shoe riveter and although he had no formal education, he taught himself to read and write. Initially, he followed in his father’s footsteps and also became a riveter. In December 1890, George married Emma Polkey, a tailoress. George was called ‘sticky’ because he was crippled in one leg and walked everywhere with a stick.

By 1904, both George and Emma had lost their jobs because of their union membership. That year, George supported George Bibbings’ election to the guardians and lobbied the Guardians for better treatment for those on the ‘test.’ During the winter of 1904-5, White organised, with the help of Amos Sherriff, Bibbings and Charles Harris, a series of demonstration or processions designed to draw attention to the plight of the unemployed and to raise money for the workless by a series of street collections. These demonstrations usually culminated in a Market Place meeting.

By May 1905, he was secretary of the unemployed committee and the daily meetings of the unemployed were dominating the local press. This all culminated in the march of around 470 unemployed men to London in June 1905 which he helped organise and lead. Despite his disability, he marched with the unemployed all the way to London and back, sending progress reports in letters home. George’s son, tried to join the marchers but was reported absent by the school authorities and taken home after reaching Market Harborough. This march was the first unemployment protest march of the modern period and set a precedent that others would follow.

After the introduction of the Distress Act, George White was appointed as clerk of the Distress Committee and became responsible for investigating individual cases. In addition to being a keen amateur photographer, he was secretary of the Anti-Sweating League, the Unemployment Committee and the Gypsy Lane Working Men’s Club.

The end of George White’s life was tragic. During the summer of 1920 he left his wife and family and returned to live with his mother, after being accused interfering with young girls in the offices of the Distress Committee. In January 1921 he died on the doorstep of the Belgrave Gate offices of the Committee after cutting his throat. In a letter he said he could not endure the continued harassment he received and pledged his undying love to Sarah who he asked to forgive him. George ‘Sticky’ White was buried in Welford Road cemetery on 10th January 1921, aged 55 years.

Sources: Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, Jess Jenkins

William Whitmore

Born, Rothwell Northhamptonshire c1830, died ?, (Chartist))

It was Thomas Cooper’s view that despite their lack of formal education: “Leicester’s working men may be said to have created a new local literature.” William Whitmore was a working class poet, Chartist and house painter, paper hanger and stainer who contributed poems to Cooper's Journal in the early 1850s.

In 1850, he was one of the founders of the All Saints Open Discussion Group, which was for many decades a hub of radical thought in Leicester. Ina letter to Thomas Cooper he wrote:

A few of us, all workingmen, commenced a Discussion Class last Saturday night in the All-Saints’ Open Room - that cradle of Leicester Chartism. We made a very fair start, and are choosing our subjects from the list that you gave in one of the back numbers of the “ Plain Speaker." ..... It has often struck me as being a strange anomaly, that our numerous Societies, having for their objects Reform and Progress, should be so disunited and make so little progress, when, if their efforts were conjoined, they might all in turn speedily gain their various ends. I trust that this plan will not share the fate of most good plans, which are just acknowledged to be good, approved of, and then forgotten.

Like Cooper, Whitmore had a keen interest in European politics and collected money to support those fighting for democracy in Europe. This is reflected in his 1850 poem 'To Mazzini and Kossuth' which was published by Cooper.

'Twas the old story! Liberty uprose
And gloriously her world-wide march begun -
But to be crushed again by banded foes,

That year, Cooper also published his poem Shakspere's Birthday, In the Future. In 1853, Whitmore was one of several 'working men' to initiate an annual celebration of Shakespeare's birthday, in which he delivered a lengthy dissertation of some of the bard's English characters. This event was, organised under the auspices of the All Saint's discussion group led by Joseph Dare and the event was still going strong in 1874 when Whitmore delivered a recitation from Hamlet. Like his friend William Jones, during the 1850s his poetry moved away from being explicitly Chartist: there were no more calls to arms or commemorations of martyrs, but more celebrations of nature. 

In a 1852, Whitmore published a small book of verse entitled 'Firstlings.'  Whitmore then came to the attention of the Christian Socialist, Tom Hughes, one of the founders of the Working Men's College and Hughes sponsored the publication of a further selection of verse in 1859 under the title Gilbert Marlowe and other poems. This was published by MacMillan.

Whitmore also found a patron in James Francis Hollings who was a councillor, mayor, magistrate, three times Lit and Phil President and Mechanics’ Institute President. Following the death of his wife from typhus, Hollings hung himself from a bedpost in John Bigg's home in Stoneygate. Whitmore's poem in Hollings' memory was published in 1863 by F. Hewitt and was widely praised. Although by now Whitmore's passion for literature was predominant, he was active in the Leicester Emancipation Society which sought the abolition of slavery and a committee member of the Mechanics Institute.

All this time Whitmore continued as a painter and decorator and his business must have prospered, since in 1871 he was employing five men and two boys.  The 1881 census lists him as a draper on Leicester Road, Oadby. Although Whitmore had become known as one the ‘Leicester Poets,’ his rewards were never enough to remove him from the world of work. By end of the the 19th century, his poetry had lapsed into obscurity.

Sources: Cooper's Journal and Unfettered Thinker 26th January & May 25th 1850, Star of Freedom 7th August 1852, Leicester Chronicle 18th April 1863, Leicestershire Mercury, 30th April 1853, Leicester Guardian 5th December 1863, Marcella Pellegrino Sutcliffe, Victorian Radicals and Italian Democrats


William J. Wicks

Born at sea off Newfoundland, c1830, died 5 June 1901, (Temperance Missionary and Peace Activist)

William Wicks never knew his parents and although his father came from Leicester, he grew up in Devonport. Wicks became a shoemaker and signed the pledge at the age of 14. He became Secretary of his local Temperance Society and came to Leicester in 1870 as a Temperance Missionary. He held that post for 19 years addressing hundreds of meetings and retired in 1889 following an accident. He was also to the fore in the campaign against capital punishment and his boast was that he has “three times cheated the hangman.” (1894) He was equally opposed to war and was a member of Leicester Peace Society and active in the campaign against the Boer war. He lamented the opportunity for refusing to pay war taxes and circulated anti war petitions. He wrote that anyone who claimed to be a Christian and supported the Boer War was a hypocrite and humbug.

Wicks was a Unitarian and famous for his kindness. Although he was self taught, he wrote short stories and was a frequent correspondent on anti war and many other issues.

Sources: Leicester Wyvern, Nov 30th, 1894, A Reconstructed World: A Feminist Biography of Gertrude Richardson, Barbara Ann Roberts


Ann Wigfield

Born: Leicester c1803, died February 1884 aged 81

Ann Wigfield was a supporter of the radicals, John Biggs and Joshua Walmsley, MP. and lived in Carley Street. She was an organiser and principal speaker at a series of  meetings held on the issue of women’s rights which were held in the Town Hall in 1855-7. These began with a series of women only meetings on the price of bread held in December 1855. Anne Wigfield said she only went to the first meeting to listen, but her speech was well reported and she soon became the principal speaker - often at great length. She was an able speaker who used passages from the bible to argue her case. She was described as: "a stout short person, dressed in antique black, and quite put George Buckby in the shade in power of voice and variety of action while speaking."  In 1855, she began a meeting opposed to high bread prices by giving  out the following lines, which she sang:

Ye women of England arise,
Your country now calls for your aid.
To fight for the glorious prize,
With laurels that never can fade. "
Your cause is uplifted on high,
Your banners of glory unfurled.
Come forward ! come forward ! we cry,
And rescue a perishing world.

She told the Dear Bread meeting in that:

"They seldom found men possessing riches willing to assist the distressed, and she thought the resolution she had to move was very appropriate to the occasion; for the present distress came home to the working classes of the country. .......God never designed that one man should live well while others hungered. He appointed that men should eat their bread by the sweat of their brow; but they could not do that now, for the bread was taken away from them by the oppressor. It was for them to wrench it from the oppressors. (Yes, yes) They could do it by moral means. God had put it into the power of every Englishwoman to raise her voice against oppression."

In March 1856, a petition was presented to Parliament, by Lord Brougham in the Lords and by Sir Erskine Perry in the Commons. The petition called for property rights for married women. Though it was submitted and closely associated with female literary writers, in Leicester its supporters were working class women who went onto the streets to collect signatures.

Subsequent women only meetings, held in 1856-57, were in support of Eskine Perry's attempt to amend the law with a Married Women's Property Bill. Thomas Emery acted as secretary to these later meetings. The press reported that the audience in the  body the hall was consisted exclusively of women belonging to the working class, most of whom were middle-aged, and apparently married. Ann Wigfield's lengthy speeches at these meetings were well reported. They are eloquent and well argued, though full of biblical allusion. They were even reported in the Australian press.

 As the law stands, he can turn her out of doors, and possess himself of everything in the house, and take her wardrobe; so that she is only allowed one garment to cover her with. That is according to law. (A voice - 'Shame!') .... Any of you may work at a warehouse or factory, and if you get £1 or 10s. a week, the law (as it stands) allows your husband to take it from from you. (A Voice - He should not have mine.) If you seek refuge in another friend's house, it is in the man's power to discharge them from harbouring you, and if you have a chair or table of your own he can take them from you, and by law you are compelled to sit down by that. (A Voice - 'We are not though; oh, no.') It is correct. But this is not the only thing, for I have been acquainted with men who have deprived their wives of their children. (A Voice— I've been deprived of five.') If you seek your redress you cannot help yourselves in the least. Don't you think these laws want altering?

 ... she believed that the time was now come for the women to stand for their rights as Chartists stood for the charter, and the corn law repealers stood for the repeal of the corn laws.

On the promise that the Government would legislate, Perry agrred to withdraw Bill  from Parliament. Whilst the eventual Marriage and Property Act fell far short of what the petitioners from the Law Amendment Society wanted, it did establish the principle that some women had a legal right to dispose of their property.

 By 1861, Ann had gone to live in Trinity Hospital and was working as a nurse. She spent the rest of here life there and in the 1870s, he was active in support of Liberal candidates. She died at Trinity Hospital.

Sources: Leicestershire Mercury, 8th & 22nd December 1855, 19th April 1856, 1st August 1857, Leicester Chronicle 16th February 1884 South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA) 28th July 1856, Census returns.


Bob Wigglesworth

Born: Leicester, September 1932, died: 2002 aged 69 (Labour)

Bob Wigglesworth grew up on the newly built Braunstone Estate. He left school, aged 14 years, and worked in various gents’ barber shops, a mattress factory, a shoe factory and as a rubber worker at Dunlop’s St Mary’s Mills. In later life, he worked as a school caretaker at Alderman Newton’s School. In the early 1970s, he was briefly associated with Militant, though by the 1980s he was seen as being on the right of the party. He was a City Councillor 1973-1976 for Aylestone and 1978-2002 for Eyres Monsell where he lived. He became Lord Mayor in 1992 and served as vice chair of the Housing Committee for many years. He was a plainspoken, but kindly man who diligently carried out casework for his constituents.

Sources: Leicester City Council, Roll of Lord Mayors 1928-2000, author’s personal knowledge


J. S. Wilford

J. S. Wilford, was secretary of the Anchor Tenants who in the early 1900s established the Humberstone Garden Suburb. He held the position from the start, being then a worker at the Anchor Works, and the one appointed to collect subscriptions, and the inception of the scheme was due to his enthusiastic advocacy.

Samuel Wilford

Born Great Glen, 1828, died: 25th June 1914 aged 85 (Co-operator)

Samuel Wilford was one of the seven elastic web weavers at Abbey Mills who founded the Leicester Co-operative Society in 1860. Their first subscription was 3d each. Sam Wilford was no 1 on the books of the society. He continued to work as an elastic web weaver.

Sources: Leicester Co-operative Society, (1898) Co-operation in Leicester  


Sidney Wilford (Syd)

Born: 1881, died 1941 (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

Sid Wilford was a printer and entertainer at Labour Party galas during 1920s & 1930s. He led the Smart Set Concert Party)

Sources: Census returns, Labour gala programmes

Walter Ernest Wilford

Born: Leicester, 23rd December 1879, died May 1950 (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

W.E. Wilford was born in Vine Street. Leicester and was the eldest of a family of six. His father worked in the boot and shoe trade and his blind grandfather told of the early days of dear bread and the struggles of the Chartists and Radicals for popular liberty. With the aid of a scholarship, he attended Alderman Newton’s School and started work at the age of 13 as an errand boy. He continued to study in his spare time. At the age of 23 he commenced business as a factor in boots and shoes and owned various retail shops. After a university extension course, he won a university scholarship. He was an omnivorous reader who was influenced by Blatchford, Tolstoy, Kropotkin, Carlyle and Shakespeare.

In 1901, at the age of 21, he was chosen as the secretary of the Castle Ward Liberal Association and was regarded as a rising hope of the party. From 1903-8, in the wake of the Boer war and in the midst of recession, he was secretary of the Citizens Aid Committee. He organised meals for children during the winters of 1904-06. This caused him to think about the causes of poverty and to break with the Liberal Party.

He helped establish a Labour Church in Castle ward and Ramsay MacDonald, George Lansbury and Margaret Bondfield were among those who lectured there. He was elected to the Council in 1912 for Latimer Ward and served for 8 years as Labour whip. Whilst on a family holiday on the east coast in August 1914, he was mistakenly arrested as a German spy. In 1916, he organised "ye olde Englishe Faire" in the market place to raised funds for the war wounded. He became Chairman of the City Health Committee in 1922 and for may years he was secretary and whip of the the Labour Group on the council. He became was Lord Mayor in 1931 and was awarded the freedom of the City in July 1949. In the early days of the NHS he issued a statement which "excited some controversy" and was later described as an attack on Aneurin Bevan's dictatorial methods.

Sources: Leicester Pioneer 10th October 1908, 11th August 1914 and 11th July 1924, Leicester City Council, Roll of Lord Mayors 1928-2000, Howes, C. (ed), Leicester: Its Civic, Industrial, Institutional and Social Life, Leicester 1927, Leicester Mercury, 22nd May 1950

Leicester Campbell Street railway station

Thomas Willey

Born: c1820 (Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists, Rational Society)

In 1839, the young Thomas Willey was secretary of the Leicester Owenite socialists. He described the activities of the branch:

Our Sunday lectures are well attended and the proceedings give satisfaction. Last Sunday Mr Adams late Coventry lectured in our Institution to a good audience on the "Effects of Competition on the Morals the People" a clear train of reasoning ....... that is a principle productive of the most injurious consequences to mankind and that co-operation only can effect that state of moral superiority which we destined to arrive at.

The progress of the Owenite Socialists was viewed with alarm in some quarters. Andrew Irvine the vicar of St Margarets (known as the Rev Quixote) wanted the full weight of the law of blasphemy applied to the Owenites. Supported by the Leicester Journal, he complained to the Mayor. Irvine was also in communication with the Bishop of Exeter, Henry Philpott, who had begun to wage war on the Socialists from the House of Lords. (In 1831, Phillpott, who opposed the Reform Bill, was burnt in effigy in his cathedral yard) In early in 1840, Philpott presented various anti-socialist petitions and felt that it was outrageous that Leicester Owenites were planning to open a school. Although he believed the number of Socialists in Leicester did not exceed 300-400, he claimed that "many more drank very copiously every Sunday of these blasphemous and pernicious draughts." He attacked Owen and suggested that Socialist lectures might be illegal because they promoted the unconstitutional overthrow of the government.

In a letter to the Bishop, written in July 1839, the Rev Irvine claimed that one of his fifteen year old Sunday-school teachers was taken by Willey to the:

socialist institution, whither he took him more than once to hear some blasphemous address. He there gave him a paper containing many scriptural texts, chiefly denouncing God's judgment against the Canaanites..."
(this probably made the argument that a God who would order the extermination of all the Canaanites by the Israelites cannot be a loving God, and therefore cannot be worthy of worship, see Richard Dawkins)

Nineteen year old Thomas Willey was employed as a clerk by the Midland Counties Railway Company, which was soon to run trains into Leicester. The Bishop of Exeter gave the House of Lords an account of how the Rev Irvine got him sacked from his job. Apparently, Irvine complained to the railway company: "It will satisfactory your lordship learn that the clerk in the railroad office, who tried corrupt my Sunday school teacher, was immediately examined the board of directors, and, as he avowed a resolute adherence to his principles,..., and that the law that would punish him was a bad law - he was dismissed from his situation."

Willey described Irvine's letter as  utterly unfounded, and so grossly exaggerated. Although this debacle was widely reported in the national and provincial press, Thomas Willey's letter setting out his side of the affair which he sent to the London press is not to be found. However the Stamford Mercury gives this account of a subsequent meeting at the Social Institution

On his entering the room, pianoforte was being played, which continued until the service commenced: this was singing a socialist hymn by a very good choir of singers; after which the Morning Chronicle was produced, and the whole of the above-mentioned debate read, the lecturer occasionally making remarks upon it as he proceeded. Another hymn was then sung, and lecture given on Socialism by respectable-looking young man named Willey, in which he stated, that the Bishop Exeter could not have taken a better step to make their principles known than the course he had adopted, which he hoped the Bishop would follow up: the Lords might pass what laws they liked, but he defied them ever to put down Socialism.

The Leicester Socialists having endured one attack in the House of Lords, were now confronted by the professional anti-socialist John Brindley who gave a series of very well attended lectures in Leicester. Brindley was an excellent debater who could play upon his audience, deal with hecklers and pick up points from his opponent.  According to the Social Missionary, James Rigby:

The Branch, until within the last few weeks, had had no opposition to encounter; and....was like a gentle stream running through a peaceful valley. Suddenly, however, Mr. Brindley appeared among them; and this he might liken to a hawk making a descent upon turtle doves.

There was significant attendance at these lectures and the Owenites who wanted to build a new moral world, were clearly wrong-footed by a man who accused them of immorality and blasphemy. Before Brindley returned for a second series of lectures, Thomas Willey travelled to March, where Brindley had some problematic financial dealings and effectively dug the dirt on him. Rather than confront him in a debate, where Willey knew Brindley would prevail, the Socialists issued a handbill at his lectures and challenged Brindley to sue them.

“I have affixed a stigma on the character of Mr. Brindley, in the eyes of the Leicester public, that I DEFY him ever to efface. He will therefore now take his farewell of this town—it will never be his interest to pay it another visit.“

The subsequent career of Thomas Willey has yet to be discovered. It is possible he became a surgeon.

Sources: New Moral World 2nd Nov 1839, 23rd May, 24th June 1840, Leicester Journal 21st February 1840, Leicester Chronicle, 22nd February 1840, Stamford Mercury 21st February 1840


J. Williams

Born: 1857 (Co-operator)

He had no formal education and his first job was in a trimmer’s shop in the hosiery trade. He worked there for three years until he was 14 and started in the boot and shoe trade in a finishing room. At the age of 17 he joined NUBSO and eventually served on the union executive and on Arbitration Boards. He attended the old Soar Lane Adult School and his ‘schooling’ there helped to crystallise his ideas on Co-operation.

In 1878 he joined the Leicester Co-operative Society and began to take a deep interest in the practical application of the ideas of Co-operation. In 1906, he was elected to the Board of LCS and was for a time its treasurer. He was also on the managing committee of Equity shoes in its early days, he was a founder of the Morning Star Sundries Society and was a supporter of various other Co-operative enterprises. He was still active in the 1920s and in 1923 had been in sole charge of a factory manufacturing boot heels for seven years. He was an active member of the Robert Hall memorial Chapel. 

Sources: Leicester Co-operative Society, (1898) Co-operation in Leicester, Leicester Co-operative Magazine June 1923

Mrs Catherine Willson

(Labour and Co-operator)

Mrs Willson was engaged in ‘social work’ with the Misses Edith and Catherine Gittins. She was one of the first to take an active part when the Infant Welfare Centres were inaugurated in connection with the Leicester Health Society. She was an executive member of the Infants’ Nursing Home and was involved, with the Co-operative Guild, in the committee which instituted nurseries for working mothers in Rutland Street, Melton Road, Talbot Lane and St. Martin’s during the First World War. She was also a member of the Women’s National Council which was associated with putting forward the women’s point of view on housing and improving facilities for women in public parks. She was a Labour member of the Board of Guardians for three years, representing Westcotes.

Mrs Willson joined the Co-operative Guild in 1906 and at that time there was the only one branch in the district. In c1915, she became the Secretary of the Leicester District Committee of Co-operative Guilds. By the mid 1920s there were 19 guilds in Leicestershire. Mrs Willson was the first woman elected to the board of the L.C.S. c1921.

Elizabeth Willson surrounded by men at the 1908 NUBSO conference. It appears that she was the only woman delegate.

Elizabeth Willson

Born: Islington, London 1875 (Trade Union Leader)

Elizabeth Willson worked. like her younger sister, as a shoe heel builder. She lived with her family at 161 Sheridan Street, close to the CWS Wheatsheaf shoe factory. Although the Leicester Women’s Branch of NUBSO was set up in 1904 for women workers in the shoe trade, it was not allowed to have women officers. In 1906, after considerable agitation, the union eventually allowed women to stand for position and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Willson was elected secretary of the branch of over 1,000 women.

In 1910, Elizabeth was elected to sit on the Executive Council of NUBSO and was the first woman to do so. In 1911, members of the women’s branch took part in a go-slow at Black's shoe factory which led to men members loosing money and making a claim from the union for financial support. This led to a bitter row within the union resulting in Lizzie and Alice Hawkins (president of the branch) being dismissed by E.L. Poulton, the union’s general secretary.

It was suggested at the time that the real reason underlying the row was that   Miss Willson was not wanted on the Council, and therefore must be got rid of. Miss Willson is too energetic to suit the old reactionary members who compose the Council. The NUBSO Executive Council was accused by Lizzie and her supporters being autocratic and domineering and of demanding absolute surrender and obedience to their dictates. Alice Hawkins said that they were being treated like little children.

The officers and members of the Women's Branch seceded from NUBSO and set up the break away Independent National Union of Women Boot and Shoe Workers with Elizabeth Willson as secretary in offices at 72 Rutland Street. A large majority of the Women’s Branch joined and in 1923, the union had a membership of 1,240.  The independent union continued in existence until 1936 when it was formally dissolved.

Sources: Leicester Daily Post, 5th & 6th September 1911, Richard Whitmore, Alice Hawkins and the Suffragette Movement in Edwardian Leicester, Alan Fox, A History of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Workers, 1958

Len Wincott

Born: Leicester 1907 died: Moscow 1983

Leonard Wincott was born in 1907 at 143 Dorset Avenue, Leicester one of eight children. Wincott had a discontented childhood. In his autobiography he complains of his need to work from a young age selling copies of The Leicester Mercury and his schooling at Catherine Street Infants. His home life was less than ideal as his father was a violent drunk but he idolised his mother who he reveals in his autobiography looked after all of the children and helped to put up money for illegal abortions for those in the local area.

In 1923, having few options in life, Len made an unsuccessful attempt to join the circus.  He then joined the Royal Navy as a boy seaman aged16. In 1931, he was a rating on H.M.S. Norfolk when the National Government proposed wages cuts to all Navy personnel. The cuts affected everyone from Officers to ratings, however, the cuts were not applied equally to all ranks. those on the lowest wages, below decks, were hardest hit.

Sailors of the Atlantic Fleet, arriving at Invergordon (on the Cromarty Firth in Scotland) in the afternoon of Friday 11 September, learned about the cuts from newspaper reports. Wincott, then a 24-year-old able seaman, organised meetings which prevented the cruiser from moving. The mutiny lasted for two days (15–16 September 1931). Wincott, with another able seaman - Fred Copeman - became a member of the Norfolk's strike committee. Although the mutiny was entirely peaceful, the Royal Navy imprisoned dozens of the ringleaders and dismissed hundreds more, Wincott among them.

Shortly after being discharged from the Royal Navy, he became involved with the Communist Party speaking at meetings up and down Britain. During this time according to The National Archives, he was being followed, and his mail was intercepted by MI5.  Partly as a result of being under surveillance by MI5, he decided, in 1934, to move to the Soviet Union. He ended up in the Leningrad International Seamen's club. Having survived the siege of Leningrad, he was accused of being a British spy and duly arrested by the NKVD in 1946. He then spent twelve years in a labour camp. From 1957, he lived in Moscow and published a book in 1974 entitled the Invergordon Mutineer. In died in Moscow in 1983

Sources: Victoria Barton - Leicester & Leicestershire Record Office, Len Wincott, Invergordon Mutineer, Weidenfeld, London 1974, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joseph Foulkes Winks

Born: Gainsborough, Lincs, 12th Dec 1794, died: Leicester 28th May 1866 (Liberal)

For many years, J. F Winks was regarded the thermometer ef middle-class radical opinion in Leicester. He started out as a draper's assistant in Gainsborough, the son of a respectable tradesman of the town. There he influenced Thomas Cooper who was part of his ‘Mutual Improvement Society’ and Sunday Adult School, for teaching the poor and ‘utterly uneducated’ to read. Winks later became a pharmacist in Leicester; a Baptist lay preacher, a publisher of books for the General Baptist Association, a politician and an opponent of cock-fighting and the use of the gibbet. He was described as a fiery fighting spirit always spoiling for a fight in the name of justice and liberty. Thomas Cook was one of his apprentices in Loughborough. On his move to Leicester he became known in the Tory press as the ‘Loughborough Renegade.’ He had ten children

In 1823 he became a Baptist lay-preacher, first at Killingholme and then at Melbourne, Derbyshire. Wanting to make Christian literature more widely available, in 1825 he set up a printing press at Loughborough. In 1831, having recently moved to Leicester he became a leading spirit in the reforming Leicester and Leicestershire Political Union. In 1835 he moved his operation to Leicester, where he rented extensive premises in High Street, next to the Huntingdon Tower, on the site of the present Shires shopping centre. Winks edited, printed and published a huge number of books and periodicals which all advanced the denominational interests of the Baptists. These included the The Christian Pioneer, The Baptist Reporter, and Missionary Intelligence, The Baptist Children's Magazine, The British School Book, for Reading and Recitation. Many were aimed at a working class readership and were full of Christian homilies.

The ultra-Tory Leicester Herald nicked named him ‘Gibbet Parson Winks,’ as a result of his campaign against the use of the gibbet. The last recorded use of the gibbet in Britain was on Friday 10th August 1832, when James Cook, convicted of a gruesome murder, was executed in front of Leicester prison. Afterwards, according to the Newgate Calendar

“The head was shaved and tarred, to preserve it from the action of the weather; and the cap in which he had suffered was drawn over his face. On Saturday afternoon his body, attired as at the time of his execution, having been firmly fixed in the irons necessary to keep the limbs together, was carried to the place of its intended suspension.”

His body was to be displayed on a purpose-built gallows 33ft high in Saffron Lane near the Aylestone Tollgate.

“thousands of persons were attracted to the spot, to view this novel but most barbarous exhibition; and considerable annoyance was felt by persons resident in the neighbourhood of the dreadful scene. Representations were in consequence made to the authorities, and on the following Tuesday morning instructions were received from the Home Office directing the removal of the gibbet.”

Winks was also one of the first men in Leicester to speak out publicly against cock fighting (outlawed in 1849), bull running (outlawed in 1835), as well as dog fighting and badger baiting (both of which not being outlawed until the twentieth century). He was active in the campaign against the compulsory payment of local rates to the Church of England and in 1837 his goods were seized and auctioned to pay the rates he owed in St Martin’s parish. That same year, he issued anti-Tory handbills and ballads during the parliamentary elections.

In 1839, Winks was appointed pastor at Carley Street Baptist Church, a post he held until his death. In the 1840’s Winks and Thomas Cooper renewed their friendship in Leicester. However Winks advised Cooper not to get involved with the Chartists. According to Cooper, Winks believed in the justice of universal suffrage, but kept aloof from the Chartists. He was a member of the Leicester Complete Suffrage Association in 1842, but tended to support William Biggs' more limited proposals on the franchise.

In his capacity as a Poor Law Guardian, Winks opposed plans to enlarge the workhouse in 1847, favouring an extension of out-relief and a national uniform poor rate. In 1848, the ‘anti-workhouse’ list was carried by an overwhelming majority and he later became the first dissenting minister to be allowed to preach in the workhouse. In 1848, he became part of a gradual and hesitating co-operation between middle class radicals and the Chartists resulting in a ‘Great Reform Meeting,’ in April 1848 and October 1851. It was the formation of this alliance, between middle and working class radicals which split the Liberals and for a time gave the radicals, electoral success.

Winks also took part in public debates. In 1843, the Leicester Journal wanted the magistrates in intervene to stop his debate with Lloyd Jones, an Owenite Social Missionary, on grounds of blasphemy. Jones was to prove the falsehood and pernicious influence of Christianity, and the truth and beneficial influence Socialism. In 1852 he debated with G.J. Holyoake, the Secularist. In 1856, Winks scored a notable victory over the infidels when he baptised his old friend Thomas Cooper.

In 1857, Winks refused to support the radical Joshua Walmsley MP, after Walmsley had advocated the Sunday opening of museums. Instead, J.F. Winks gave his support to the Liberal churchman John Harris; after a sharp contest Harris, won with 700 Liberal and 900 Conservative votes, gaining a majority of 178.

Sources: Leicester Journal 10th November 1843, The Reasoner 21st July 1852, Thomas Cooper, The Life of Thomas Cooper, 1872, A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, Leicester 1954, J.F.C. Harrison, Chartism in Leicester, published in Chartist Studies Asa Briggs (ed) 1959, The Newgate Calendar


Paul Winstone

Died: July 2006 Aged 54 (International Marxist Group, International Socialists)

Paul Winstone gained a BA in Social Sciences from Leicester University in 1973 and during the 1970s, he was active in various Trotskyist groups, notably the International Socialists and the International Marxist group. As a member of the latter he was briefly a member of the Labour Party, during I.M.G.’s entrist phase. He was very active in the campaign against the National Front, favouring the physical force tactics rather than the broad non violent demonstrations organised by the Inter-Racial Solidarity Campaign and Unity Against Racism. He was consequently involved various Anti Fascist Committees and the local Anti Nazi League which was then favoured by the ultra-left in the late 1970s. He was also active in the Troops Out Movement and was a supporter of Sinn Fein.

In 1986, he started work in the Chief Executive’s Office of Leicester City Council, working for a time as the European Development Officer and eventually becoming the policy officer with responsibility for Race and Faith issues. In this post he was often an articulate and effective spokesman for the council, sometimes promoting policies that would have been anathema to him 15 years previously. Shortly after his death, he was described as a ‘committed Christian’ (much to the surprise of those that had known him earlier). He was Vice Chair of the TGWU branch and a member of the International Socialist Group (Socialist Outlook), the successor organisation to I.M.G.

Sources: author’s personal knowledge, Leicester Mercury


Thomas Winters

(Leicester Glove Union)

Thomas Winters was the able and self-educated secretary of the Glove Union in the 1840s. Following the failure of the legal case brought by William Chawner, in 1845, Thomas Winter and George Buckby petitioned parliament to abolish frame charges. This resulted in the private members Ticket Bill which was backed by county Tory MPs. The Bill, whilst not abolishing frame charges, did require middlemen to display the prices they were being paid by the hosiers to the workmen.

In 1844, the short-lived Leicester newspaper the Chartist Pilot, published this letter from him which began:

Fellow workmen-the present crisis demands your serious and undivided attention. For years you have toiled and laboured for other men’s gain, you have fought and struggled hard and long against the black oppressions of the manufacturers and bag-undertakers, whose constant study has been to devise the best means of extracting from your earnings the largest amount of money, regardless of reason, honesty or Christianity. Your helpless wives and suffering families have groaned and died beneath the wicked machinations of your stint and full-frame rent masters. Have you not suffered sufficiently in your comforts to raise your tyrants to opulence and independence? Let your miserable cots and comfortless hearths answer. How long shall a respectable manufacturer of Belgrave Gate be allowed to take from your meagre earnings from eight to ten shillings per week for frame rent, &c. If you are men! stand erect in the noble character of man, and firmly declare before high heaven that you will break off the manacles of social slavery and determine one and all that while your masters can erect large factories and build numbers of houses (who some time ago were nothing but wandering beggar boys) out of the toil, sweat, and vitals of your poor children, determine that you will have a better price for your labour, or not pay such exorbitant charges.

and ended

Working men! how long will you suffer yourselves to be fleeced in this manner by these professing Christians. How long will you cringe and bow to the foot that kicks you? Let me exhort you to neither court the smiles or fear the frowns of man, but bind yourself in one noble phalanx against oppression. Let the war whoop of justice be raised in every town and village of the county. Buckle on the armour of determination, arm yourself with truth and reason, march forward against the citadel of corruption with one heart and mind to conquer and to conquer.

Sources: A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, Leicester 1954, Leicestershire Mercury, 21st February 1846, Chartist Pilot 20th April 1844

Frank Wise MP

Born: 3rd July, 1885, Bury St. Edmunds died: 1933 (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

Frank Wise was educated at Cambridge and joined the Civil Service in 1908.  He rose from being a junior clerk in the House of Commons to that a State official. He served on the National Health Insurance Committee (1912-14) and during the First World War he was Assistant Director of Army Contracts (1915) and Second Secretary to Ministry of Food (1918). During the 1919 Peace Conference he was a British representative on the Supreme Economic Council in Paris and provided economic expert advice to Government delegations at various international conferences. He left the Civil Service in 1923.

He was a member of the Independent Labour Party and unsuccessfully contested Bradford North in the 1924 general election. He was elected for Leicester East in May 1929 and was strongly opposed to the £67,000,000 cut in unemployment benefits and the other cuts proposed by. MacDonald, and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden in 1931. In the following general election he lost his seat. Following the demise of the I.L.P., he helped found the Socialist League at the Labour Party Conference held in Leicester in 1932. This was a direct precursor of the Tribune Group. Wise died on 5th November 1933 aged 48  while taking walk at Cambo, Northumberland. He was the author of: Consumers' Co-operation in Soviet Russia, Manchester: Co-operative Union Ltd, 1929

Sources: election address 1929, Gloucester Citizen, 6 November 1933


C.V. (Charles) Woods OBE

(Labour Party)

Charlie Woods was the full-time organiser of the Leicester Labour Party from 1947 onwards. He had been a Councillor in Leeds for five years before coming to Leicester.


Alderman Sir Edward Wood

Born: Derby 1839, died: 1917 (Liberal)

Edward Wood, of Kirby Muxloe was in business in Leicester as a boot factor and became chairman of Freeman, Hardy and Willis. He entered the Council in 1880, was an Alderman and was Mayor of Leicester three times, 1888-89, 1895-96 and 1901-02. He was a Chairman of the Gas Committee and a Chairman of the Water Committee. He was a Justice of the Peace. He assisted with the joint administration of the 1896 Trades Council Distress fund with Trades Council officers and later became a friend of Ramsay MacDonald and was persuaded to put money into the Labour Leicester Pioneer. He was leader of the Leicester Liberal Association and proposed that following the loss of West Leicester to the Tories in 1900 there should be a pact between Labour and the Liberals. This ensured the election of MacDonald in 1906. He was commemorated by the Sir Edward Wood Hall, now part of Leicester University.

Sources: Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism

Rev Joseph Wood

Born: London, 1843 (Liberal and Socialist)

In about 1870, the young minister Joseph Wood came to preach at Oxford Street Congregational Chapel. Although his preaching attracted a substantial following, his sermons did not meet with universal approval so his supporters opened the Wycliffe Church for him. (the old Collegiate Church). Joseph Wood was very aware of social problems and was described as a ‘leader of thought’ in the town. When the first School Board was formed, following the 1870 Education Act, he was elected and became the Board's first vice-chairman. He later became the chairman.

For a time he was editor of the Leicester Daily Post, but he did not make a financial success of it and the paper passed out of his control. His increasing liberality of thought eventually led him to a Unitarian standpoint and, in 1885, he accepted an invitation to the Old Church meeting in Birmingham. By 1890, he had become a Socialist and occasionally returned to Leicester to lecture on behalf of the Socialist League. It was his view that is was:

“the duty of a Christian minister to preach liberty, equality and fraternity, in the fullest deepest, broadest and most literal sense. The idea of brotherhood as given to the world by its great Socialist, was an idea involving such issues and such a radical reconstruction of society that the ordinary aims of Liberalism looked pale by its side.”


John & Mary Woodford

John, born: c1801 Billesdon, Mary born Northampton born c1800

John Woodford
John Woodford was a framework knitter and one of the founders of the Leicester Co-operative Society. The Society grew out of a meeting held at his house in Brook Street. Co-operative histories give his address as 15 Brook Street, however the 1861 census shows him at no 7.

Mary Woodford
Mary Woodford, along with Ann Wigfield were involved with the Anti-Dear Bread campaign of 1855. (see George Buckby) Along with Mrs Beadham they held possible the first women only meeting in Leicester. It used the Town Hall and was so crowded, the mayor's parlour had to be used to. The only men present were Joseph Elliott, the press and the hall keeper. Mary Woodford moved the resolution:

"That the females Leicester...... are deeply impressed with the conviction that the present high price of provisions is controlled principally through the buying and storing-up of the people's food, and that such practices place the working classes of this country in the deepest state of destitution and want, and demands immediate Legislative interference. This meeting deems most essential that an address be presented to her Majesty, ..... to intercede with her Government order that check may be put upon the monopoly of the food of the people,"

A second meeting was held a couple of weeks later which began with the singing of "England Arise." (it appears that Edward Carpenter merely revised the lyrics of an existing hymn).

Mary was also the chairwoman of meetings held on the issue of married women’s property and aggravated assault on women which were held in the Town Hall in 1856 & 1857. These again were women only meetings, with the exception of Thomas Emery who acted as Secretary. Ann Wigfield was also an organiser of the meetings. Mary told the meeting that

“Many men when they came out of prison would sell up their wives property and then go and live with other women. And beating was not the only way in which men published their wives. Many poor women were pined and starved to death.”

Sources: Leicestershire Mercury, 8th & 22nd  December 1855, 18th April 1856, 1st August 1857, Shirley Aucott, Women of Courage, Vision and Talent,

Harry Hardwick Woolley

Born: New Radford, Notts, August 1859 (Liberal Party, Labour Party)

Although H. H. Woolley never had a formal education, he was Secretary of the Leicester and County Saturday Hospital Society for many years. He came to Leicester from Northampton in 1876 and was a skilled boot maker at the CWS Duns Lane plant. After spending two years in France from 1883, he returned to Leicester and as a result of the strike at the CWS works in 1886, he became one of the initiators of the Leicester Co-operative Boot Manufacturing Society or Equity Shoes.

In 1885, he became treasurer of NUBSO and in 1891 became full-time secretary of No 1 Branch whereupon he gave up his job at Equity. He became president of the Trades Council in 1896.

In 1893, he was elected to the Town Council as a Trades Council candidate for Castle ward and was re-elected in 1896. His father, J.H. Woolley, was a Liberal town councillor during the same period. In 1894, Harry Woolley gave his support to I.L.P. candidates and eventually joined the I.L.P. Although he resigned his seat c1899, he as the Labour candidate for Wycliffe ward in 1907.  He was a longstanding member of the Secular Society.

In March 1903, he was elected as Secretary of the Saturday Hospital Fund, having previously been engaged by Sir Edward Wood to prepare the ground for the new society which was to raise money in workplaces for the local hospitals. He continued as secretary until he retired at the age of 70 in 1930. He was made a J.P. in 1917.

Sources: Leicester Pioneer 26th October 1907, Leicester Co-operative Society, (1898) Co-operation in Leicester, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, Greening, Edward O., A Pioneer Co-partnership, 1923, Howes, C. (ed), Leicester: Its Civic, Industrial, Institutional and Social Life, Leicester 1927


Joseph H. Woolley

Born: New Radford, Notts circa 1833, died: 22nd Sept 1906 (Liberal)

J. H. Woolley was a boot and shoe worker and father of Harry and Samuel Woolley. He spent his early years in Northampton where he joined the union and in 1876, he moved to Leicester and worked at the CWS factory in Duns Lane. He was elected president of the Trades Council in 1884. He was a founding member of the Leicester Co-operative Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Society and was a committee member. In the 1880s and 90s, he was a member of the Board of the Leicester Co-operative Society and edited the Leicester & District Record which was the organ of co-operation in the town.

In 1891, J. H. Woolley  was elected as Liberal Labour Association candidate in the local elections for Westcotes. Both he and his son were on the Council at the same time.  He was president of NUBSO No 1 branch from 1891-2 and as a trade union official, he was Inskip’s main lieutenant on the NUBSO executive.  Although,  he was initially a advocate of arbitration rather than strike action, by 1894, he was opposing Inskip and supporting the socialists’ calls for co-operative ventures and the banning overtime. Nevertheless, he was described by the Wyvern in 1895 as a staunch Liberal. He was also an active member of the Secular Society.

In the wake of the set back for the union during the 1895 lock-out, Joseph wrote:

“As an object lesson to the workers in the late lock-out in the boot and shoe trade, it stands unique (Equity) in the example it sets before them of how best to unite the interests of Capital and Labour by employing themselves. When this is done, the need for trade unions will cease to exist and strikes and lock-outs with all there attendant miseries will be relegated to the limbo of the past.”

 Paradoxically the L.R.C. pact with the Liberals in 1903 meant that all the old Lib-Lab candidates could not be accommodated, as a result he lost his council seat when his ward organisation had to accept an ‘orthodox’ Liberal candidate.

His wife, Elizabeth (born c1838) worked for a time as a laundress and was later a member of the L.C.S. education committee and Co-op Women’s Guild. She died in 1909. Hid daughter Clara (born c1866) was a hosiery worker and active in the Co-operative Women’s Guilds in the 1900s.

Sources: The Wyvern, 20th September 1895 & 22nd July 1898, Leicester Co-operative Society, (1898) Co-operation in Leicester, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, Greening, Edward O., A Pioneer Co-partnership, 1923

Samuel Godber Woolley

Born: New Radford, Notts 1860 Died: 1948 (Co-operator and Secularist)

S.G. Woolley’s was the younger bother of Harry and the son of J.H. Woolley. He first joined a trade union at the age of 15 and NUBSO soon after it was formed and later became a student at the Working Men’s College. Following the strike at the West End boot factory of the C.W.S. in 1886, he launched the movement amongst his fellow employees that resulted in the foundation of the ‘Equity’ Boot factory. It was he that called the founding meeting held at St Margaret’s Coffee House in Church Gate in 1886.

Both he and his wife Elizabeth were members of the Secular Society and he was a member of the Secular Cricket Club that attempted to play cricket on Sundays during the summer of 1885. Their games were obstructed by the police who did not intervene when he was assaulted by a mob. The following day, the Secularists attempted to take legal action against one of the crowd, but it was rejected by the magistrates.

The Secularists drew attention to the Abbey Park byelaws which  prohibited any interference with those playing at cricket on the Pasture. The bye laws gave the police powers to remove obstructors and to take their names and addresses. Instread the police did their best to hamper the Sunday cricketers.

Sam Woolley was a life long non-smoker and abstainer and was elected to the board of the Leicester Co-operative Society c1918.

Sources: Leicester Chronicle, 4 July 1885, F.J. Gould, A History of the Leicester Secular Society, 1900

Joseph James Worley

Born: Davenport, 23rd May 1876, died: 1944 (Co-operator)

J.J. Worley was the son of Henry Worley, an engine fitter, whose father had pioneered the Devonport Dock Society. Joseph Worley entered the service of the co-operative movement at the age of fourteen when he joined the Plymouth Co-operative Society. From his earliest years in the movement, Worley extended his education in co-operative history and allied subjects. He regularly attended the co-operative summer schools, first as a student (at the first co-operative summer school in Castleton in 1913) and then as a teacher. He took an active part, also from very early in his career, in the practical affairs of his own society. In 1899 he helped to establish the Plymouth Printers, a co-operative venture, and he served as chairman of the education committee of the Plymouth Society. In 1905 he was appointed secretary of the Bridgwater Co-operative Society and in 1909 transferred to the Plympton, becoming their manager-secretary.

Worley was always to the left of centre - later in life he lectured for the National Council of Labour Colleges - and he showed his political attitudes in an early commitment to the cause of unionism among co-operative employees. He joined the Associated Union of Co-operative Employees on the formation of the Plymouth branch in 1900 and when a district council was formed for the West country, Worley was elected president. Later, after he had moved to Leicester, he sat on the Midland district council. In 1915 he was elected to the executive council and continued to serve until 1917 when army service caused his retirement.

It was his appointment in 1910, as the first propaganda agent for the Co-operative Productive Federation, which brought him into prominence in the national movement. Within a few years he was generally regarded as an ambassador for co-operative production throughout Europe and he represented the C.P.F. at the first Russian Co-operative Congress after the Revolution. In 1922 he succeeded Robert Halstead as secretary of the Federation, a position he held until his death in 1944.The offices of the C.P.F. were in Leicester in Horsefair Street. Also in 1922 he was elected to the central committee of the International Co-operative Alliance and he represented Britain for many years at international conferences. He served on the board of the Leicester Society from 1922 until 1937, when he retired for reasons of health; he was a member of the joint parliamentary committee for many years; a director of the Co-operative Press, and president of the Co-operative Congress in 1938.

In 1930 he was chairman of the special committee of inquiry which recommended the establishment of a National Co-operative Authority, and he was himself a member of the Authority from the time of its formation. At this time he was editing The Co-operator's Tear Book and the Co-operative Productive Review. A fluent speaker, he also expressed in writing his life- time of experience in the co-operative movement in A Social Philosophy of Co-operation, which was published two years before his death.

During the 1930’s, he frequently spoke on anti-fascist platforms in Leicester along with others figures from the left. His last public act was typical of the man. During World War Two, he moved the vote of thanks to the chairman at a public meeting called jointly by the education department of the Leicester Co- operative Society and the British-Soviet Friendship Society, addressed by the Dean of Canterbury (the Very Rev. Hewlett Johnson). The Leicester Labour Party had threatened to discipline one of their aldermen, Sydney Taylor, for taking the chair and ‘J.J.’ as he was always known, was present in Taylor's support. He died within two hours of reaching his Leicester home on 18 November 1944 and was buried at Welford Road Cemetery on 22 November. His wife and a son survived him.

Sources: Dictionary of Labour Biography, Co-operative Magazine


George Wray

Born: c1782 died 31st May 1860 aged 78 years (Chartist)

George Wray Whitting of Talbot-lane was generally known as George Wray. He came from a well-to-do family near Wrotham in Kent, however his mother died when he was two years old and his father emigrated to America and was not heard of again. George was consequently brought up by relations, who apprenticed him to a shoemaker at Wrotham. His master was a Jacobin and George was entrusted to take presents to the political prisoners held in Maidstone gaol.

After his apprenticeship he moved to Glasgow, where he was chosen as secretary to the United Trades during the agitation for the repeal of the Combination Laws. He finally settled in Leicester in 1832 after the passing of the Reform Bill and became a member of the Working Men's Political Association. (Chartists)

He was chairman of the All Saints Open Association of Chartists, which in 1842 ran a school. Thomas Cook was the president and Wray was treasurer. He was fiercely critical of the Chartist leader Thomas Cooper and wrote a letter to him saying:

“You are a man of great talent, but little judgement possessing neither honour or honesty and as regards politics, that you have not one spark of Chartist principle in you.”

He had little time for Cooper's successor Jonathan Bairstow. In 1843 he wrote to the Mercury saying:

I should like to know how Bairstow can for one moment after this, ever think of gaining the confidence of any portion of well thinking men. For my own part I would kick all such leaders out of the ranks of Chartism; for the man that can act as he has done, and face it out in so barefaced a manner, would sell me and the whole fraternity of Chartists, if he could get a good price for us.

In 1843, he was 'strike president' during a dispute with John Hardy boot and shoe makers. George came back to the fore among Leicester Chartists in the borough in 1849 and lamented the decay of Chartism once employment had returned.

He was chosen by the Chartists to represent Leicester at the 1851 Convention. Holyoake's Reasoner shows him as a subscriber to Bronterre O'Brien's testimonial. When the Chartist leader John Frost returned from imprisonment and gave a lecture on the Horrors of Convict life at the Temperance Hall in 1857, Wray proposed the vote of thanks.

He was also president for several years of the Shoemakers' Association, by whom he was respected for his uprightness and fidelity of character, and universally esteemed all knew him. He has left a poor widow to lament his loss, whom he had been married 44 years. He was buried in the Welford Road Cemetery.

Sources: Leicestershire Mercury, 26th February, 5th March 1842, 9th June 1860, Leicester Chronicle 25th March 1843, 24th January 1857.

Michael Wright

Born: Cheadle, Staffs, 18th August 1818, died 18th September 1881 aged 63 (Owenite, Liberal, Republican & Secularist)

Michael Wright was the son of a small farmer and went to work in a tape factory at the age of seven. At the age of 17, he moved to Leicester and became a follower of Robert Owen. He then went to live and work on the unofficial Owenite Community at Manea Fen where he spent 18 months before the community collapsed in 1841.

Wright then went to Manchester, working in a weaving mill joining in the anti corn law agitation, where he married in 1843. He then moved to Erdington and Birch’s Green and then to Foleshill, where became a manager for a silk weaving firm. During these years, he was active in the Chartist agitation. At the request to T.W. Hodges, (who had been a fellow socialist at Manea Fen and who became mayor of Leicester 1865-67), he moved back to Leicester to manage Hodge’s factory on Welford Road which had recently been started for the manufacture of elastic webs.

In 1864, there was a strike at Hodges factory and Wright opposed the union’s claim because he believed that “the trades union was overstepping it legitimate bounds and was attempting to tyranise over and dictate to employers as to how they should conduct their business.” He then went into the manufacture of elastic web on his own account and made a substantial amount of money.

Wright was a total abstainer for the greater part of his life and a vegetarian. He was attracted to the Secularist doctrines formulated by G.J. Holyoake and was described as being less extreme as many in the ‘Secular Party.’ He was active in re-establishing the Secular Society in 1867 and in the Leicester Republican Association. He also became one of the leaders of the anti-vaccination movement. In January 1870, a working men's conference assembled at the Temperance Hall to discuss the burning question of education. Michael Wright advocated the programme of the National Education League, which aimed at excluding theological teaching from the Board schools. He was elected to the Board of Guardians in 1873 and gave his support to the working men candidates in the local elections. He was a major shareholder in the Secular Hall.

In 1855, Charles Bradlaugh and others had formed the National Sunday League and from then on there was a running battle between Freethinkers and Sabbatarians. It was centred on the question of Sunday opening of art galleries and museums. During the 1870s Wright agitated for Sunday opening of the museum and in 1874 the Leicester MP, P.A. Taylor, brought a bill on Sunday opening before parliament. The Secretary of the Lord’s Day Observance Society did not want art galleries to be open at any time because they felt that the nude statuary and paintings were likely to inflame the passions. It was not until January 1891 that the Museum and Free Library were eventually opened to the public.

In 1870, Michael moved his business to Quorn. (It continues there to this day under family ownership) The family lived on Leicester Road Thurmaston. In January 1874, at his son’s wedding, Wright announced the union of his workpeople with the firm. A system of co-partnership was to be adopted by which his workers would be paid a share of the profits. Such a system had already been instituted by Josiah Gimson. However, Wright was also an active member of the Elastic Web Manufacturers’ Association which, during the summer of 1874, began a seven week lock-out of the workforce. This was intended to break the power of the weavers’ union. Bitterness and wage cuts following the lock-out. G. J. Holyoake’s view that Michael Wright efforts to introduce industrial partnership failed because it was not supported by the workforce conceals the legacy of resentment and mistrust that must have existed after the strike. His sons Philip and Thomas were both active Secularists.  (see below)

Sources: Midlands Free Press, 10th January 1874, 24th September 1881 (obit), F. J. Gould, The History Of The Leicester Secular Society, 1900, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, George Jacob Holyoake, The History of Co-operation, 1875, David Nash, Secularism, Art and Freedom


Canon A. Linwood Wright

Born London 1874, died c1946? (I.L.P.)

Albert Linwood Wright became the assistant priest at St Mark’s in 1897. In 1903, he went to South Africa and became rector of East London West, Cape Colony and Chaplain of Native Convict Station, East London St. In 1911, he became Rector of Boksburg in the Transvaal. He returned to Britain and in 1918 he succeeded Canon Donaldson as the rector of St Marks. Like his predecessor, he was a member of the I.L.P. In the early 1930s he was active in the campaign against aerial bombing. “I do not call bombing from the air the Englishman’s way of playing the game.” He also played a role in helping the Hunger Marchers in 1934 at a time when the official trade union movement was hostile to the NUWM. He took and active interest in housing and slum clearance and opposed the removal of entire communities to the outskirts of the City.

In 1939, he became the Lord Mayor's chaplain and told the congregation at the Cathedral that "We must do what we can to extinguish class distinction in this city. Our new Lord Mayor is a man of the people."  (Alderman George Parbury) Referring to the war the Canon said : "We must put our whole heart and soul into our cause. We shall not be untrue to the men who died in the last war if we take up the cause again. We seek a new and better peace.”

Sources: Daily Herald, 23rd March 1923, Leicester Mercury, July 1932, Leicester Mercury 13th November 1939


Peter Wright

(Communist Party)

Peter Wright was a lecturer at the  City of Leicester School of Education. (later Scraptoft College and Leicester Polytechnic) he was part of the very significant group of local Communist intellectuals involved with the fight for comprehensive education. He made the occasional contribution to the education magazine Forum.

Peter had served in Yugoslavia during the Second World War with the partisans and spoke Serbo-Croat. From January, 1945, to October, 1947, Major Peter Wright was employed as Assistant Military Attaché at Belgrade. In 1950 as a result of the Tito-Stalin split, the Yugoslav newspaper “Borba” alleged that  Peter Wright was one “several suspect personalities within the British Communist Party" participating in the counter revolutionary campaign against Yugoslavia,. Apparently his name (and those of four others) was mentioned during the show trial of some of the followers of Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovich who had been executed by Tito's regime in 1946.. It was a bizarre accusation since these Communists were accused of helping a Royalist, who fought against Tito and who sometimes collaborated with the Germans.

Although the British had backed Tito as the most effective force against the Nazis, the Yugoslav press report caused questions to be asked in parliament. British McCarthyites like Lord Vansittart, used the report to advocate the banning of Communsts from various positions. However the reply was given that His Majesty's Government are satisfied that in none of these cases was anything done which was contrary to the national interest.

In later years, Peter was very active in CND and opposed the Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Sources: HC Deb 05 April 1950 vol 473 cc1170, Belfast News-Letter, 30th January 1950


Thomas Wright


Thomas Wright who lived in Burley's Lane was chairman of the Framework Knitters committee and a principle figure in the Leicester branch of the National Union of the Working Classes. This was set up as a result of working class disillusion with the 1832 Reform Bill.

From 1816, all publications had to bear a government stamp and retail at 7d (3p) each. The Poor Man's Guardian claimed the newspaper stamp was a tax on knowledge; it had the significant motto 'Knowledge is power'. Published at the low price of a penny per weekly copy it bore the explicit heading: Published contrary to 'law' to try the power of 'might' against 'right.' In 1833, Thomas Wright was summoned before the Magistrates for selling the Poor Man's Guardian. He was fined £20 or six months in the Borough House of Correction, further charges were then brought and he was fined another £10 or three months in prison.

Sources: Leicester Chronicle, 12th January 1833, Poor Man's Guardian, 23rd February 1833, Leicester Journal, 22nd February 1833, A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, Leicester 1954


Thomas Wright

Born: Foleshill, Warwickshire 1851, died: (Secularist and cricketer)

Thomas Wright was the youngest son of Michael Wright, the ex-Owenite shareholder in the Secular Hall) In 1884, after his father's death, he became president of the Secular Society. Like his father and brother Philip, he was involved with the family elastic web business. He lived at 'East View' Regent Road. (in between 61 & 63) and later moved to Springfield Road.

During the 1880s, he was very active in challenging the kill joy attitude of the Sabbatarians in Leicester in realm of sport and music. During the summer of 1885, the Secular Society's cricket team team attempted to play cricket on a Sunday on Abbey Pasture. Initially they were stopped by the police, but it became apparent that the police had no powers to stop them since there were no byelaws prohibiting cricket on Sunday. Instead Church militants were dispatched to break up the games.

On Sunday 28th June, shortly after 2pm, Thomas Wright proceeded to the Pasture and stumps were fixed. A thousand people, including a number of Sabbatarian roughs, hustled round and hindered play and police stood and watched. A second wicket was pitched and the same tactics repeated. A drunk seized Mr. Wright and suggested they should have a ------ swim together, and the crowd added suitable volleys of oaths. Mr. Stephen (representative of The Standard) tried to shield Mr. Wright, but was chased across the Pasture by the orthodox mob. The following day the magistrates dismissed a summons against one of the crowd who had assaulted another Secularist Sam. Woolley.

The Secularists drew attention to the Abbey Park byelaws which prohibited any interference with those playing at cricket on the Pasture. The bye laws gave the police powers to remove obstructors and to take their names and addresses. Wright called upon the ' police to put the byelaws into force, against those who persisted in "wilfully obstructing, disturbing, and annoying them in the proper use of the Cricket and Recreation Ground."

Gradually the Secularists managed to play for longer, though on one occasion when the policed decided to intervene by standing between the bowler and batsman; this tactic led to a police constable and sergeant being hit by balls. Inconsequence the police then removed the Secularists' stumps. In August, after someone picked up the ball and threw it into the river, the Secular cricketers demanded that the police take the man's name and on Monday morning a summons was taken out against the man for maliciously damaging the ball, but the magistrates refused the application. The attitude of the Council acknowledged that the Secularists had the right to play, but urged them to desist nonetheless. See F.J. Gould on the Sunday observance cricket wars .

In January 1888, Thomas Wright, as president of the Secular Society, was summoned by the Chief Constable for holding a musical concert on a Sunday at the Secular Hall. The Corporation had just secured an Act of Parliament which prohibited music on Sunday, Christmas Day or Good Friday anywhere except a place of worship. As a result, the Secular Society gathered a petition and asked the magistrates grant a seven day license for music, so as to give to all the public halls in Leicester "the advantages already possessed by the places of worship in the borough." The petition gained the signature of the chairman of the Watch Committee which was probably enough to secure the licence. However, it was a licence for music and singing only: dancing on Sundays remained strictly forbidden. 

Sources: Leicester Chronicle 4th, 11th July, 1st August 1885,  Leicester Journal  21 August 1885, F. J. Gould: The History of the Leicester Secular Society, 1900


Jane Lavinia Wyatt


Jane Wyatt was chair of the Leicester branch of the WSPU in 1913. She lived in the Belgrave area and taught at Harrison Road School.

Sources: Sources: Richard Whitmore, Alice Hawkins and the Suffragette Movement in Edwardian Leicester


Arnold, Charles John and Margaret Wynne

The Wynnes were all active in the Communist Party. Charles Wynne was secretary of the Anti-fascist committee in 1934 and Secretary of Leicester Peace Council, 1937. John Wynne was an active anti-fascist activist in the 1930s and was on the Leicester British-Soviet friendship Committee during WW2 (Charles G Wynne, 64 Evington Drive 1938) Margaret Wynne was secretary of the Leicester British-Soviet friendship Committee during WW2. The president was Mrs Swainston, the first woman elected to the City Council. (she was initially an independent, but later became a Tory)

Sources: Leicester Evening Mail, 22nd January 1937

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© Ned Newitt Last revised: June 02, 2019.