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Isaac Abbott

Isaac Abbott

Born: 1817 Earl Shilton, died 13th February 1892 (Liberal & Elastic Weavers’ Association)

Isaac Abbott was originally a stockinger, but by the early 1870s, he had become Secretary to the Elastic Weavers’ Association. He seems to have been much more radical than other union leaders of the time, writing that “the restless spirit of competition must not forever go unchallenged, immolating its myriad victims like an insatiable Juggernaut.” He was critical of the “spaniel breed who lick the hand that smites them by telling the overlooker if they know of anyone joining a union.” In 1873, he had the Trades Council’s support as a workingman candidate for the School Board, but stepped down before the election took place.

In 1869, Isaac Abbott was the secretary of the forerunner of the Trades Council. It was a body which brought together the committees of the Labourers, Trimmers, Hose Shirt and Drawers and Sock And Top Union to discuss matters of common interest.

In the 1870s, Abbott became a member of the board of the Leicester Co-operative Society and keen supporter of co-operative production, though he felt the West End C.W.S. works was “hardly based on his ideas of the co-operative principle.” He wanted to see greater worker participation. In 1872, a group of Leicester Web Weavers formed the Co-operative Manufacturing Society of Leicester, a producers’ co-operative that manufactured webs for the local shoe trade. Abbott became a shareholder along with John Butcher of the Co-operative Union, who assisted with the co-op’s formation. Soon most of the society’s trade was with the C.W.S. factory, now managed by Butcher, who acted as the co-op’s agent. Abbott seems to have distanced himself from this enterprise and called for it to be re-established. After making substantial losses, a new co-op was registered in 1878.

On June 6th 1874, around 22 local employers (including prominent Liberals and Radicals like Michael Wright) locked out their workforce in the elastic web trade until the workers agreed to work on new terms and conditions. Whilst the employers’ association imported ‘knobsticks’ (blacklegs) in order to break the strike, the newly formed Trades Council made a levy to support the weavers. Abbott played a leading role in the dispute which affected around 1,000 local workers and lasted seven weeks.
As men drifted back to work, the Weavers’ Association conceded defeat and there was a return to work on July 24th. Two association men were sentenced to hard labour for assault on blacklegs and soon after the return to work, the employers cut wages. Three months after the dispute Abbott complained that the

“employers have adopted ‘blacklists’ with a vengeance-that men have been walking the streets for months, and are still doing so, for no other crime than for refusing to accept conditions which they thought would be injurious to them. There has been a ‘reign of terror’ instituted in their factories for the purpose of coercing them men into submission to a species of slavery which finds no parallel in the history of any trade union in Leicester.”

Following the strike, Abbott may have suffered victimisation himself since the 1881 census gives his occupation as a shoe dealer. Abbott was a teetotaller and a Liberal, but during the 1874 local elections he nominated a Tory (and ex publican), in protest at the prominence of employers within the Liberal Party. Despite this, he remained an active Liberal, though, by 1886, he was finding common ground with socialists like Tom Barclay. He later chaired meetings of the Socialist League.

Sources: Midlands Free Press, 15th April 1871, 17th Oct 1874, 10th April 1875, 27th March 1886, Benjamin Jones, Co-operative Production, 1894, Leicester Co-operative Society, (1898) Co-operation in Leicester  Census returns


Alex Acheson

Born: 1st June 1912, died: May 1996 (Labour Party & International Marxist Group)

Alex Acheson was a veteran Trotskyite and a founding member of the British section of the Fourth International (1938). He came to live in Leicester in 1938, working as a commercial traveller. He was called up in 1940 and served in Egypt during the war, where he made contact with Egyptian Trotskyites, who operated in clandestine conditions. By mid 1945, British soldiers stationed in Cairo were being sent to Greece to put down the revolt of workers and former resistance fighters who refused to accept the restored dictatorship. Alex duplicated and gave out a leaflet calling on British troops to refuse to fight for the Greek Generals.

After the war he became a teacher, active in the National Union of Teachers, Wycliffe ward Labour Party and Secular Society. In the 1960s, he was active in the campaign for non-selective education. He was a former National Treasurer of the International Marxist Group and in the 1990s was still writing wordy resolutions for its successor, the International Socialist Group. i.e., ‘Building The Fourth International And Mass Trotskyist Parties In Every Country - Discussion for the XIV World Congress,’ 14 February 1995

Sources: Interview, Leicester Oral History Archive Collection, LO/373/324, author’s personal knowledge


Frank Acton

Born: 27th Mar, 1876, died: December1952 (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

Frank Acton left St Leonard’s School and went to work at the age of 12 in a hosiery factory and joined the Hosiery Trimmers’ Society in 1890. However, ill health compelled him to leave factory work and he became a carter employed by Leicester Town Council. In 1913, he became secretary of Municipal Employees Association and later the district organiser of the N.U.G.M.W. In 1920, he was elected for Wyggeston ward to the Town Council by 60 votes in a bye-election. He was president of the Trades Council in 1920 and was also chairman of the Mental Health Hospital. He had the Labour whip withdrawn in Oct 1933, when he abstained on a vote on slum clearance. In 1937, he became Lord Mayor and an alderman in 1944. He retired from the Council in 1948.

Sources: Leicester Evening Mail 13th October 1933, Leicester City Council, Roll of Lord Mayors 1928-2000


Dorothy M. Adams

(Communist Party)

During the 1930s, Dorothy Adams was a teacher at Collegiate Girls Grammar School. She joined the Communist Party in 1935, but took a low profile because she was a teacher. She was still a member in the 1970s. She attended technical school to learn cobbling so she could teach her sixth form girls how to mend the shoes of the Basque refugees being housed at Evington Hall. In the late thirties she took in a refugee, ‘Ungar,’ a Jewish bank manager who had managed to get into Britain with a false passport. She was active in Leicester Peace Council, the Left Book Club and the Leicester British-Soviet Friendship Committee, during and after World War 2. 

Sources: Interview with author, Leicester Oral History Archive 1983

Sam N. Adams

Born: Hinton, Northamptonshire, 9th January 1885 (Labour Party)

Sam Adams left school at the age of 13 and worked on a dairy farm before he started work on the Great Central Railway. In 1905, he joined the Slough branch of the A.S.R.S. and was active in the adult school movement. In 1911, he returned to Northamptonshire where he was a parish, rural district councillor and member of the Board of Guardians until 1920. He was the first workingman to be appointed as a J.P. in Daventry. He was a life long abstainer.

In 1920 he came to Leicester where he was employed on the Great Central as a railway carriage examiner or wheel tapper. He became president of No 3 branch of the N.U.R. and was elected president of the Labour Party in 1925. In 1927, he was elected to the board of the L.C.S. He believed that Co-operation, particularly productive Co-operation was the greatest practical challenge to capitalism. He became chairman of the Leicester Co-operative Printers during the 1920s.

In the 1930s he was elected to the City Council and following Amos Mann’s retirement, c.1936, he was elected as president of Leicester Co-operative Society. He was also active in the National Council of Labour Colleges and in the late 1930s he became a member of the Left Book Club. In 1939 he told a crowd of 5,000 at the De Montfort Hall Co-operative Day Celebrations:

“We would remind you of the Munich policy, of the betrayal of the League of Nations, of the Appeasement of Fascist aggressors, of the cold shoulder of peace loving nations and the consequent endangerment of world security. The National Government’s foreign policy record is a trail of defeat and disaster in Spain, Abyssinia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Albania and the Far East. Peace and freedom have been betrayed and young men conscripted.”

Sources: Leicester Co-operative Magazine, August 1939, election address 1927

Thomas Adnitt

Thomas Adnitt

Born: 14th June, 1868, Cold Ashby, Northants (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

Thomas Adnitt’s father was a farm labourer, earning 14/- a week and c1873, he and his family moved to Leicester. After leaving King Richards Board School, Thomas was apprenticed to a cigar maker. He had been told by the headmaster that he would “grow up to be a lounger and spend a great deal of his time standing on street corners smoking a clay pipe.”

Unable to find work in the cigar trade, he went into the boot and shoe trade in 1896 at the time of the great lock-out. He was later sacked as a result of trade union activity. In 1919, he was elected as a full-time union official and was elected onto the National Executive of N.U.B.S.O. in 1921. He was elected president of the Trades Council in 1919 and was a Labour Town Councillor for Belgrave from 1912-22 and for Latimer from 1923. Despite being crippled by an accident in early life, he was secretary of a swimming club. He was a Methodist and member of the Belgrave Adult School.

Sources: Leicester Pioneer, 23rd May 1924

Michael Armstrong

Born: 2nd September 1934 died 7th March 2016 (Educationalist)

The son of a Methodist minister and missionary, Michael was born in Walpole St Peter, Norfolk, attended the Methodist Culford school, near Bury St Edmunds, and went on to read Greats and a BPhil at Wadham College, Oxford. Michael began his long teaching career at Wandsworth Comprehensive School, London, in 1959. From 1964 to 1970 he was a research officer, first at the Institute of Community Studies, where he worked with Michael Young, with whom he wrote New Look at Comprehensive Schools (1964), and later at the Nuffield Foundation Resources for Learning Project, directed by Tim McMullen. He returned to the classroom in 1970 as a teacher at the radical Upper School, Countesthorpe College. Liz Fletcher wrote:

Michael Armstrong was, to my eyes, clearly at the forefront of engaging with and examining the values underpinning Countesthorpe in those early days, notwithstanding the model of participatory democracy and consensus there. The principles the school held to, reflecting Tolstoyan values such as freedom and non-authoritarianism, derived from the emphasis placed upon the child itself. Nurturing the child’s original energy and attempting to support the child to adapt to the realities of the world outside the school are fundamental. These principles, as well as the constant testing of them, prevailed for Michael long after his Countesthorpe days. Just as Tolstoy had used his school as an experiment out of which he formulated a series of insightful and often psychologically accurate statements and ideas, as well as gaining practical experience (we are told in great detail of the mistakes that were made and of the attitude towards them), so Michael was always essentially a practitioner. Like Tolstoy’s ‘anti-theory’ (a term coined by Archambault), Michael’s work was based on intelligent detailed observation of, and sympathetic attitude to, children in the light of his beliefs in general.

In 1976 he left Countesthorpe in order to carry out research and to teach at Sherard Primary School in Melton Mowbray. During this time he wrote his first book, Closely Observed Children: the diary of a primary classroom. In 1981 he became head teacher of Harwell Primary School in Oxfordshire, where he remained until his retirement in 1999. Michael joined the Editorial Board of FORUM: for promoting 3-19 comprehensive education in 1964 and was Chairperson of the Editorial Board from 1994.

Throughout his life, his inspirations were Tolstoy on education, Italo Calvino on the imagination, the American educator John Dewey and the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2000.

Sources: The Guardian, Michael Fielding, Mon 23 May 2016, Liz Fletcher: A Tolstoyan at Countesthorpe Forum Volume 59 Number 1 2017

Mary Attenborough

Born: Nottinghamshire, died 1961

Mary Attenborough was a writer and founding member of Marriage Guidance Council. Whilst her husband Frederick was Vice-Chancellor of the University, she became an ardent supporter of the Republican cause in Spain. She was secretary of the Leicester Committee for Basque Children and from July 1937, the committee ran a school and accommodation at Evington Hall. This provided for 50 Basque refugee children and was supported by donations from the Labour Movement. Many local people took the refugee children into their homes.

In addition to her work with the Basques, Frederick and Mary Attenborough also housed and cared for two German Jewish girls, Helga and Irene Bejach, for nearly seven years. They came to England under the “Kindertransport” programme and went to the local girls’ grammar school. They became the much-loved “sisters” to Richard and David. Richard, said:

“It gave me an understanding of what it was to be Jewish, and taught me to loathe prejudice and persecution. Frankly, I would never have been interested in making both Gandhi and Cry Freedom without that experience of the girls.”

Mary Attenborough chaired the Board of the Leicester Little Theatre for many years (and in which the teenage Richard Attenborough made his first stage appearances). Mary Attenborough was tragically killed in a road accident in her sixties

Sources: Leicester Mercury, 3rd August 1938, Richard Brooks, The Sunday Times, November 30, 2008

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© Ned Newitt Last revised: June 02, 2019.



















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