Who's Who of Radical Leicester Bl-Bz




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Fred Blackwell

Died: February 2006, aged 79 (Labour Party)

Fred Blackwell worked as a senior housing officer at Leicester City Council from 1973 until his retirement in 1983. During this time, when the Labour Party was reluctant to engage in street politics, he was a key figure in the broad campaigns against the National Front. He was Chairman of the Inter-Racial Solidarity Campaign and a committee member of Unity Against Racism. With Stewart Foster, he became a City Councillor for Coleman ward. He died at his home near Darlington from a cancer-related illness.

Source: author’s personal knowledge

Anne Blair

Born: Bradford 8th November 1952, died 13th May 2019 (Trades Council and Labour Party)

Anne Blair was a National Union of Teachers (now the National Education Union) activist and a member of the executive committee of Leicester and District Trades Council with a special interest in the issues of Equality. She supported every trade union campaign in her own union and also on behalf of LDTUC. She compared every Leicester May Day Rally in recent years, apart from 2019 when she was becoming seriously ill.

Anne was very much an internationalist and was the international officer for her union locally. She took a particular interest in Latin American politics and was the secretary of the local group of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. She fought tirelessly for the release of the Cuban 5 from their incarceration in the US (they were released in 2016) and against the US economic blockade of Cuba. One of her last acts was to be in Liverpool during April 2019 to see her union celebrating the sending of musical instruments donated from all over England and Wales to Cuba by container ship. Anne had coordinated the collection of instruments in and around Leicester as well as other parts of the Midlands.  

Anne was born in Bradford and her maternal grandfather was a prominent I.L.P. member in that city and would have been its mayor had he not died himself through cancer (which also claimed Anne) before his proposed year of office. Anne made sure that he - John William Flanagan - appeared in the book, Uncovering Resistance published in 2015 about conscientious objection in World War I as he refused to fight and kill fellow working-class men. Anne was a long-standing Labour Party member, but left when her namesake Tony Blair took Britain into conflicts in the Middle East. Upon Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, Anne re-joined the party in Leicester West and characteristically threw herself into activity. Up until only a few weeks before her death, she was out canvassing for the local elections.

Anne came to Leicester in the early 1990’s to teach accounting and economics at Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College and taught right up to the end of term in April 2019.

Source: Tony Church

Claude Boat

Born: Leicester, 1903, died Leicester 1949 (Communist Party, Co-op Party, National Unemployed Workers' Movement)

Claude Boat was a leading activist in Leicester's unemployed workers' movement during the 1930s. In January 1932,  following a mass meeting and march of 1,000 people, he headed a deputation of six to call on the Public Assistance Committee to refuse to operate the hated means test. The N.U.W.M. wanted to reverse the cut in unemployment benefit and wanted £1 per week for people over 18 years old, 15s for a wife and 5s. for each child. "Those are our demands. and they are not more than is necessary to keep us morally and physically in a proper condition." The Committee unanimously decided that this was a matter for Ministry of Labour and not a matter for them. (Amos Sherriff seconded the motion.) Whilst the Labour members were opposed to the means test, they were not prepared to defy the law.

In July 1934, (although now in work) Claude became the N.U.W.M. candidate in a local council bye-election. This foray into electioneering was pursued nationally by the N.U.W.M. who tried unsuccessfully to get Labour  candidates to stand down in favour of the unemployed. Claude told the press that the unemployed were frustrated with the Council's failure to get slum clearance underway. The Leicester Evening Mail reported one of his meetings under the headline "Fiery Eloquence"

Mr C. H. Boat, the local National Union of Unemployed Workers' Movement candidate for the Leicester City Council, addressed 16 meetings in the open air last night. At one street he had what punsters would describe as a warm reception. He was on his portable platform when immediately opposite him a fire broke out at a house. Nothing draws a crowd like a fire engine, and when the excitement had subsided, which, fortunately for the occupants of the house, was very soon, Mr. Boat reaped the benefit of the lingering crowd.

Claude Boat got 96 votes, whilst his only opponent, Labour's Sam Cooper got 1,186. 

Whilst other organisations were represented on the Council's Public Assistance Committee, the N.U.W.M. request for representation was rejected. Boat continued to be involved with delegations to meet with the P.A.C., urging free milk for children, payment of trade union rates on work schemes and a fuel or coal allowance for the unemployed.

By 1936, the leaders of the local unemployed were increasingly involved in opposing the local Fascists  and Claude frequently chaired anti-fascist meetings in the Market Place. He was soon involved with the Spanish Aid Committee and was also became active in the Co-operative movement. Like R.V. Walton, he left the Communist Party and joined the Co-op Party in the late 1930s. The 1939 register records him as being an (unemployed) confectionary wholesaler.

Source: Leicester Evening Mail, 13th January 1932, 30th October 1933, 13th, 16th June, 4th July & 12th December 1934, 12th February 1935, 12 February 1935, 3rd June 1939. Leicester Mercury 20th February 1935, 12th July 1938 PAC minutes 12th January 1932


Norman Bordoli

Born: 12th Apr 1923, died March 1995 (Communist Party)

Norman Bordoli went to Gateway School and during the war was a telegraph operator, serving on motor torpedo boats. He was a knitter in the hosiery trade and became a member of the National Executive of the Hosiery Union. He was chairman of the Eyres Monsell Tenants Association during the 1960s and 1970s. He first stood as a Communist Party candidate in 1968 and became branch secretary of the Leicester Communist Party during the 1970s.

Source: author’s personal knowledge

Walter W. Borrett

Born c.1882, West Ham, Stratford (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

Walter Borrett worked as a compositor in the print trade and a member of the Typographical Association. He came to Leicester c1907 and became secretary of Westcotes I.L.P and then served as secretary of the Leicester I.L.P. from 1912 to 1914. He then became the I.L.P. organiser for Leicester and Leicestershire from 1914. He kept in close touch with Ramsay MacDonald keeping him informed of the position in Leicester and in 1917, he wrote a short monograph of George Banton.

During the war, he dealt with hundreds of cases of men previously rejected as unfit for service. These men were called back for re-examination by the Leicester Medical Board to try and send them into active service. He also worked with tenants to ensure landlords did not extort high rents in contravention of the Rents Restrictions Act. After the war, he became manager of the Blackfriars Press and was on the staff of Leicester Pioneer during the 1920s. In 1919 & 1920, he stood as a Labour candidate for Westcotes & Castle wards.

Sources: Leicester Pioneer, 29th October 1919 and 22nd October 1920

Herbert William Bowden (Lord Aylestone)

Born: 30th January 1905, Cardiff, died: 30th April 1994 (Labour Party & S.D.P.)

Bert Bowden came to Leicester in 1933 and worked for Charles Keene’s firm of Kingstones. His job was to cycle around to collect hire purchase payments. He was elected to the City Council from De Montfort ward in 1938. In 1941, he joined the RAF and became a pilot officer in 1943. In the 1945 landslide election, he won Leicester South which had been a safe Conservative seat. The subsequent incorporation of the Saffron Lane estate made the constituency more winnable for Labour.

Bowden became PPS to the Minister of Pensions early in 1947. By 1949, he had become a junior whip, making his name first as deputy, then as chief whip for the Labour party during its years in opposition. In Harold Wilson's first government in 1964, he was made Leader of the House, although he was replaced by Richard Crossman two years later. In 1966 he was appointed Commonwealth Secretary and paid the first official visit of a British minister to the rebel Rhodesian regime after U.D.I.

In March 1963 he said: “I do not like the idea (of televising parliament) ... I do not want Parliament to become an alternative to That Was the Week That Was or Steptoe and Son or Coronation Street.” Ironically when he stood down as MP in 1967, he left politics to run ITV. He became a life peer in January 1964 as Lord Aylestone and in the 1980s, he joined the SDP.


John Bowman

Born: , died:  (Chartist)

John Bowman was an active Chartist from 1839 onwards. He was a member of the All Saints Chartists and was critical of Thomas Cooper. He was also secretary of the Woolcombers' Protective society

There was opposition to this memorial to George Bown being placed in Welford Road cemetery.

George Bown

Born: Leicester 7th February 1770, died: 8th April 1858, (Jacobin, Reformer & Chartist)

George Bown’s father was a pay-sergeant in the Leicestershire militia, who later had a business as a carrier and surveyor of the turnpike roads. George was apprenticed to a surgeon and later became an assistant to a doctor. He then became an assistant to Richard Phillips in his pamphlet room at the corner of Gallowtree Gate and Humberstone Gate. Phillips was a teacher of mathematics, sciences and a bookseller who founded the Leicester Herald in 1792. Bown became the secretary of the Constitutional Society for Promoting Equal Representation of the People in Parliament (an association of reformers) and signed a manifesto which demanded complete suffrage. In 1793, Phillips was imprisoned for selling Tom Paines’s Rights of Man. Although Phillips managed to edit his paper from prison, Bown must have played a key role in keeping the Leicester Herald going.  

In May 1794 Bown was briefly arrested for his Jacobin sympathies, although some obituaries say Bown was also imprisoned for selling the Rights of Man. Following the destruction of Phillips' shop in a fire, Bown moved to Nottingham. He married Miss Gardiner (the sister of William Gardiner, the musical celebrity), working for a  time as a hatter and then running a school in Loughborough. He returned to Leicester in 1811 as the editor of the Leicester Chronicle.

The Chronicle's main rival was the Tory Leicester Journal which was edited by John Price. The Journal specialised in the 'coarse and ribald abuse' of its opponents with no regard for the truth and Bown was employed to counter Price's hyperbole. During Bown's editorship the war of words between the Chronicle and the Journal developed to almost libellous proportions. Unfortunately the invective in Bown's articles also gave offence to the Chronicle's supporters who claimed it 'violated the canons of decency' and that they could not lay a paper on their table for fear their wives and daughters might read it.

Bown was replaced as editor from 17th April 1813 by Thomas Thompson who pledged to cease the 'illiberal wordy warfare' with the Journal. (this was not reciprocated)  Bown and his wife thereafter became agents for the sale of lottery tickets.

In 1821 Bown opened a school on Charles Street which for unknown reasons was 'broken up and dispersed, by an extraordinary instance of persecution.' It is not clear what happened, but Bown was imprisoned only to reopen the school in 1822. He advertised spaces for 24 pupils and 8 girls whilst his 15 year old daughter Emily ran an under fives class. The school was not a success and the reason for this may be a consequence of Bown's stance on religion. Following Bown's death, one correspondent refers to her brother being withdrawn from the school in consequence of Bown's repudiation of the Bible. Bown then found employment as the book keeper to the ‘Hope’ coach at the Bell Hotel.

In 1830 Bown authored the Animadversions on the recent conduct of H.J. Wilkinson, soi disant editor and proprietor of the Leicester Herald. which was published by A. Cockshaw. Wilkinson had recently got into financial difficulty and Bown was not doubt taking revenge on another Tory newspaper.

Following the passing of the Reform Bill in 1831, Bown became clerk to the Reform Society which was at the heart of the Radical-Whig alliance. After this alliance had taken control of the Council, Bown  was appointed as the Council's Accountant in 1837. The Leicester Journal fulminated that in appointing this producer of scurrilous hand-bills, Liberalism and Atheism had been rewarded. Bown replied that:

I have for nearly 47 years been labouring to deserve and obtain the maledictions of the despicable faction of which these co-journalists are the organs. I feel their long silence as reproach that I have been indolent

From the mid 1830's, Bown had worked as a teacher at the Mechanics' Institute teaching astronomy, geography and grammar. In August 1838, an advert appeared in the Leicester Chronicle over Bown's name stating stated that certain classes at the Mechanics Institute had been suspended. "..against whom the doors of the Class Rooms have, on some frivolous, and despotic pretence, been lately locked, would now restart in the Commercial Rooms, It is proper to announce that these Classes will not be subject to ... arbitrary control inquisitorial inspection."

It would seemed that the Mechanics Institute suspended his classes after he was alleged to have criticised the Bible. He either was sacked or resigned. It was in this way that Bown's classes restarted in the Commercial Rooms which was also the Owenite Social Institution. W.H. Holyoake recalled that:

“I met with kindred spirits at Barlow’s rooms at the top of the Market Place. The meetings were attended by some young fellows who had left the Mechanics Institute ....... At this time Robert Owen’s views were being discussed all over the country. We young men were much influenced by that remarkable man George Bown, an old Jacobin and radical. On Sunday mornings we went to Barlow’s rooms to read Owen's New Moral World and other periodicals.” 

In 1840, Bown became the Council’s Inspector of Nuisances at an annual salary of £20. Some thought the post was a sinecure, but Bown used it to advance ideas of public health. He pointed out that:

No fact in physical science stands on a more indisputable basis than that stagnant water containing animal and vegetable matter in state of decomposition is the great source of the various grades of what is termed typhus fever from its mildest to its most malignant form.

He began to survey all the public health nuisances in Leicester and it was his idea that the Council should appoint Medical Officers of Health. From 1846, Mr Buck assisted him in a medical capacity. As a result, Leicester became the first British local authority to have medical officers. As a wave of cholera approached Britain from the continent, he urded the council to take precautions:  "Every death that may ensue from any neglect of preventive means is in fact at least a moral manslaughter...."

In the early 1840’s Bown became the First editor of the Leicester Chartist paper the Midland Counties Illuminator. Shortly before Bown’s death Thomas Cooper described him as a “fine intellectual old man, whose pamphlets, fly-sheets and contributions to periodicals would fill many volumes if collected.” However, in 1842 Cooper had accused him of deserting his Chartist principle in order to ‘get a place.’ (with the Council) At the time George Bown was also participating in Cooper's bete noir, the Complete Suffrage Association where he presented a paper asking whether governments were justified in retaining overseas territories which they had obtained by force.

However, Bown’s commitment to Chartism lasted longer than Cooper’s. In 1848, he published a pamphlet on Physical Force: An Address To All Classes Of Reformers, But Especially To Those Who Are Unjustly Excluded From The Franchise in which he rather long-windedly declared physical force should be held in reserve, as a threat to obtain the vote, behind moral force, but nevertheless advised workers to ‘get arms.’ This caused some dismay amongst his middle-class radical friends.

He resigned from his Council position in 1849 aged 79. Bown then went to live at the Trinity Hospital, though it would seem that he boycotted the sermons which the inmates and benefactors were required to attend. In 1857, aged 87 he spoke at the demonstration following the defeat of Sir Joshua Walmsley saying he had  ever advocated the right of man to suffrage independent of the number of bricks he might have over his head, the number of panes of glass in his house or the amount of money in his pocket.

Bown remained a freethinker until his death and it is possible that, like Paine, he was a Deist, opposing organized religion on the grounds that nature and reason provided the necessary means to experience God. One of his critics wrote:

...did any man in Leicester do more to disseminate the principles of infidelity amongst a class of young men over whom his position, in times gone by, gave him a powerful influence?. Mr Bown himself was never ashamed of this. Indeed, his whole life, ..... was one of continued protest against the fundamental truths of Christianity.

After his death, the Leicester Chronicle was described as indulging in the "Pursuit of George Bown into his Grave" after it published numerous letters attacking Bown and the proposed monument. James Plant wrote to defend the memorial saying:

is not to be erected to the Iate George Bown for his "Ultra-Republicanism," or for his admiration of that somewhat fossilized production, the 'Age of Reason," or to his violent temper, and at times intemperate language: - let the grave close over these defects. No it is intended as a mark of esteem for his faithful adherence, in perilous times, to the cause of civil and religious liberty; and to the great Protestant principle of the right of private judgment. No flattery could win, threat intimidate, or reward buy off, his firm adhesion to these great principles, through a long and stormy life.

Bown was buried in Welford Road cemetery and his funeral was well attended by civic leaders. His grave is marked by an nine foot high sandstone obelisk. The inscription reads:

"Here lies one who never feared the face of man."

Sources: Derby Mercury, 29th  May 1794, Leicester Chronicle, 6th February 17th April 1813, 26th October 1822, 17th September 1842, 8th May 1858, 3rd November 1860, Leicester Guardian 24th June 1857, Leicester Journal 24th January 1840, Leicestershire Mercury, 18th March 1837, 10th October 1840, 26th August 1848, South Midlands Free Press, 17th April, 15th May 1858, Leicester Reasoner, 1902, A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, Census returns

Tom Bradley

Born: 1926, died: 2002 (Labour Party & S.D.P.)

Tom Bradley was a Gaitskellite and a founder member of the Campaign for Democratic Socialism. This was set up in 1960 to fight against leftwing proposals for more nationalisation and for unilateral disarmament.

Having joined the Labour party when he was 15, he immediately began climbing the party and union ladders, especially the latter. In 1946, he became a branch officer of the TSSA. By the age of 32 he was on its executive committee and three years later its treasurer, under the belligerent rightwing president, Ray Gunter. He perfected his public speaking skills by contesting hopeless parliamentary seats: Rutland and Stamford (1950, 1951, 1955) and Preston South (1959). He did better in local government, winning a seat on Northamptonshire county council aged 26 and Kettering borough council five years later.

He made his first entry into Labour's factional politics in 1962 when the leftish Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas retired from Leicester North East to become a high court judge. As the candidate of the moderate right, Bradley won selection over Russell Kerr, an Australian left-winger backed by CND. In the following election, he increased Labour's majority.

After his November 1962 maiden speech on the ‘clerical slums’ in which railway clerks worked, Bradley almost disappeared from parliamentary sight. He saw himself as a trade unionist MP, devoting most time to the union and less time to his constituency. His situation changed after the 1964 election, when Ray Gunter became minister of labour and Bradley took his place as president of the very moderate white-collar union, the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA). When Gunter declined to stand again for Labour's NEC, Bradley replaced him there.

His only parliamentary post was as parliamentary private secretary to Roy Jenkins, increasingly his mentor. Although he considered himself a ‘binder-together’ and a ‘middle-of-the-road man,’ he was one of the 68 Labour MPs who had rebelled against a three-line whip in 1971 to vote with Ted Heath's Tories to join the Common Market.  Ten years later he followed Roy Jenkins into the Social Democratic party when it defected from Labour in 1981. This effectively ended his political and trade union career. In the 1983 general election he finished third behind the Tory and Labour candidates in a seat that he had held since 1962. With ex-Labour councillor Shah also standing as an independent, it is remarkable that Patricia Hewitt only lost by 933 votes to the Conservative Peter Bruinvels.

Sources: The Guardian


Roy Bradshaw

Born: Leicester, September 1927, died 2002

Roy Bradshaw was an engineering worker who joined the Communist Party during the Second World War. He stood as a City Council candidate for Charnwood ward in 1963 and probably in other elections too. During the 1970s, he was a familiar figure in town as a seller of the Morning star and Soviet Weekly.


William L. Bradshaw

William Bradshaw was secretary of the Leicester Unemployed Broad Committee in 1934 and a member of the N.U.W.M. He was a Communist Party candidate in local elections and was still a party member in the 1970s..


John Henry Bramwich

Born Westminster or Shoreditch June 1803, died: Leicester 12th March 1846 (Chartist poet)

All men are equal in His sight,-
The bond, the free, the black, the white,-
He made them all,- and freedom gave-
He made the man,- Man made the Slave!

John Henry Bramwich was one of a group of Chartist poets who were working men. After being apprenticed at the age of nine, he enlisted in the army at the age of 17 in 1820 and spent sixteen years as a private. He spent ten years in the West Indies where his daughter was born. Tiring of the army, he returned to Leicester to work as a framework knitter. He is best known for his hymns, Britannia’s Sons, Though Slaves Ye Be and Great God, is this the Patriot’s Doom? The latter was composed for the funeral of Holberry the Sheffield Chartist who died in York gaol. He also contributed to Cooper’s Extinguisher (1841) and 14 hymns to the Shakespearean Chartist Hymn Book. Along with fellow poet William Jones, he assisted Thomas Cooper at his adult Sunday school. Thomas Cooper wrote his obituary in the Northern Star, (4th April 1846) and included a moving letter written by Bramwich as he lay dying slowly of consumption:

“You know, a lungless slave is good for nothing now-a-days in the British slave-market. I can assure you, it requires Samsons and Goliaths to work the stocking-frames they are making at this time. I look upon myself as a system murdered man.”

Shortly before his death his family were converted to Mormonism. He composed a hymn for his own funeral and was buried in a pauper’s grave at St Martin's Church. (now the Cathedral). William Jones also composed a hymn in his honour that was sung at a meeting held in the Market Place to commemorate him. His wife and family then emigrated to the United States where some of his descendents are still Mormons.

Sources: The Northern Star, 2nd July 1842, 4th & 16th April 1846, Thomas Cooper, The Life of Thomas Cooper, 1872


Alfred C. Brant

Born Louth, Lincolnshire, c1852 (Secularist & Socialist poet)

Alfred Brant was a compositor by trade. During the 1890’s, he contributed articles to the Wyvern on a range of topics including ‘White Slaves in Leicester,’ and a description of 1897 May Day demonstration. Under the acronym ‘A.C.B.,’ he wrote an autobiographical poem which tells of the reader of his secularism, socialism and his joy at working at the Leicester Co-operative Printing Society. In 1910, the Co-operative Printing Press published ‘A Rhymster’s Recollections,’ a 32 page collection of his writings, containing a sonnet in dedication to Ramsay MacDonald and a poem welcoming delegates to the 1911 Labour Party conference in Leicester. He was a secularist, a member of F.J. Gould’s ethical guild and a superintendent of the Secular Sunday School.

Sources: Leicester Co-operative Record, October 1910, The Wyvern


J.H. Brewin

Died 1926 or 1927 (Liberal)

J. H. Brewin was the manager of Glenfield Progress Co-operative Boot & Shoe works from its foundation in July 1892 until his retirement in 1926. He was also the chairman of its committee.

Sources: Leicester: A Souvenir of the 47th Co-operative Congress, Manchester 1915. Leicester Co-operative Magazine, January 1927

(William) Sidney Bridges

Born: Great Yarmouth, 1st January 1898, died: 28th October 1975 (Labour)

Sid Bridges was the son of a Norfolk blacksmith. He left home at the age of 13 eventually working in Lincoln for a firm of steam engineers. He went to France, during World War One, as a machine gunner and was wounded in the eye and knee by shrapnel during the Battle of the Somme. After the war he returned to Lincoln, but was frequently out of a job. He worked on and off for five years with a circus, looking after the lighting and doing other jobs. He came to Leicester, with his wife and baby, in 1929, but was still dogged by unemployment. He eventually joined the maintenance department of Leicester Co-op in 1933 and worked there until he retired in 1966. He joined the Labour Party in 1919 and he became chair of TGWU 5/249 Leicester Branch from 1933-1970. He was president of the Trades Council in 1946.

In 1945, he was elected to the City Council for Latimer Ward and was chair of the Transport Committee for 21 years. He was credited with pulling Leicester City Transport out of the red, turning it into a paying concern with some of the lowest fares in the country. He had responsibility for the replacement of trams with busses. In 1964, he urged the Council to stop any dealings with Everards brewery whilst a colour bar was operated at the Admiral Nelson pub in Humberstone gate. That year he had been made an alderman, becoming Lord Mayor in 1965 and he was awarded freedom of the City in 1971. The following year, with Labour back in control, he become deputy leader of the council and with other members of Labour’s ‘old guard’ was associated with the publicity designed to discourage Ugandan refugees from coming to Leicester.

Sources: Leicester Mercury, 23rd November 1964, 15th May 1970, 29th October 1975, Valerie Marett, Immigrants Settling in the City, 1987, Leicester City Council, Roll of Lord Mayors 1928-2000


Henry Broadhurst

Born: 13th April 1840, Littlemore, died: 1911 (Liberal)

Following the resignation of both the local liberal MP’s in 1894, the Liberal party adopted Henry Broadhurst (a working man) to placate the considerable number of working men voters who had not been satisfied with the previous MPs. Henry Broadhurst had started work at the age of twelve and then became a stonemason. He was involved with repairing and enlarging churches and university colleges in Oxford and later with the rebuilding of the House of Commons in the 1850s. He was active in the struggle for universal suffrage and took part in several demonstrations and meetings in the build up to the passing of the 1867 Reform Act. In 1872 he took part in the campaign to reduce the working week and an increase in the hourly wage paid in the building industry. Broadhurst soon emerged as one of the leaders of the stonemasons eventually giving up his work as a stonemason to become a full-time union official.

In the 1880 General Election Broadhurst was elected as Liberal MP for Stoke-upon-Trent and he became one of the Lib-Lab supporters of Gladstone's government. In the House of Commons He led the campaign for a government commission to investigate working-class housing. In the 1885 General Election Broadhurst was elected for the Bordesley seat in Birmingham and became an Under-Secretary at the Home Office. He thus became the first working man to become a government minister. However, his loyal support of the Liberal government upset some trade union leaders and when he argued against the eight-hour day, Keir Hardie remarked that he was more Liberal than Labour.

In 1890, the TUC supported Hardie against Broadhurst by passing a resolution in favour of the eight-hour day. Broadhurst was especially hurt when he discovered that his union had voted against him. In the 1892 general election Broadhurst was defeated at West Nottingham. His objection to the eight-hour day had lost him the support of local workers and this enabled a local colliery owner to defeat him. Attempts to be elected in Grimsey in 1893 ended in failure, but Broadhurst eventually won at Leicester in 1894. He held the seat until his retirement before the 1906 General Election.

Sources: Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism


William Brown

Died: 1902 aged 78 (Co-operator)

A bricklayer by trade, William Brown became the first president of the Leicester Co-operative Society in 1863. He was architect, builder and workman, on a voluntary basis, for the Society in its early days. He resigned in 1870, on his appointment as storekeeper at No. 6 branch.

George Buckby

Born: Gumley, Leics, November 1812, died: Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA 28th April 1887 (Chartist leader, trade union leader)

George Buckby was a framework knitter who was active in the 1840s in establishing a consolidated union of framework knitters. From 1844, he campaigned against the evils of frame rents and after 1846, he was one of the Chartist leaders who attempted to revive the movement following the imprisonment of Thomas Cooper. By the mid 1850s, he was actively agitating against both the high price of bread and the adulteration of food. He formed the Anti Dear Food Association in 1856. He also gave his support to the Sunday League. He was one of Leicester's most effective working class leaders and was despised by the Whigs and Tories.

In May 1844, George Buckby, along with five others, was sentenced to one month's hard labour. Their crime was one of intimidation: 'by hissing and groaning to intimidate and prevent Mr. Cummins' workmen from working.' This followed some 600-700 people gathering in front William Cummins' shop during a strike. The cause and nature of the strike is not recorded, but in 1844, William Chawner brought a test case against his employer Cummings, claiming that sums deducted for frame rent had been illegally withheld and was a violation of the Truck Act of 1831.

A verdict in favour of Chawner was given at the Leicester Assizes, but was reversed on appeal to the Queen’s Bench in 1846. It was the failure of this action which led the framework knitters to seek legislation to regulate frame rents. Buckby was soon the principle spokesman of the Leicester framework knitters.

In 1847, Buckby was described as having assumed the position previously held by Thomas Cooper. Buckby having initially opposed the radical candidates  Walmsley and Gardner, was one of several Chartist leaders to sign a handbill urging the working classes to support them. This was one of the first signs of a rapprochement between the working class Chartists and the middle class radicals. Key to this was Walmsley's and Gardner's initial support for the  abolition of frame rents.

In 1848, when the Chartism was once again in the ascendant, Buckby was the Leicester delegate to the National Convention. His departure for London was made the occasion of a demonstration of over 7,000 Leicester Chartists behind a banner which proclaimed that there were 42,884 local signatures on the petition which was to be presented to Parliament. 

J.F.C Harrison says that Buckby supported  Joseph Warner  who succeeded to form the more militant physical force Working-Men’s Chartist Association, whilst Buckby may have been sympathetic, he was also very conscious of the need to avoid arrest and imprisonment. He looked favourably on Ernest Jones' ideas and chaired a meeting addressed by Jones shortly before Jones was arrested and imprisoned in solitary confinement. In the summer of 1848, when Chartist meetings were prohibited by the magistrates, he adopted the pretext of holding religious meetings on a Sunday giving a sermon on a text from the scriptures. Police still dispersed the meeting.

During the early 1850s, as secretary of the framework knitters, Buckby led agitation against the frame rents. He also petitioned parliament for their abolition and for legislation to give knitters protection against employers’ frauds. He was a keen advocate of workers’ co-operative production. He kept up his support for Chartism at meetings of the non-electors and was regarded as the 'great gun' of working class speakers:

he thought that nine-tenths of the non-electors now believed they had just a right to the vote as the highest personage in the realm, so long as they paid their fair share of taxation. Yet for this they were called anarchists and revolutionists: but he would remind them that those epithets were applied to the men who carried West Indian Emancipation, to the men who carried the Reform Bill, by those who were fond of rotten boroughs, and by the men who loved Protection and dear bread, to the Anti-Corn-Law-Leaguers (hear, hear). And now it was applied to those who wanted to extend the Suffrage. He took part the election of '47 as a non-elector, and in that of '52 as an elector; yet had his intelligence increased so much in those few years, as to make this difference in qualification? No, but during that time the non-electors, by being his customers, had enabled him to keep a house of £10 and payments. And so he became duly qualified elector; and so the non-electors, by supporting the electors, enabled them to have votes, while they themselves were excluded.. (1852)

In 1853, Buckby gave his support to the two victorious radical candidates, Walmsley and Gardner and when a great procession was held to mark the event and the visit of the Hungarian reformer Lajos Kossuth, the Chartists were well represented. Streets were decorated with green and from George Buckby's window a banner hung across Wharf Street inscribed "National education and Universal Suffrage."

Buckby still remained critical of the Liberal Party and in particular its support for the Poor Law. He opposed the separation of men from their wives and families at the 'Bastille.'  He claimed that there was hardly a day passed when a child was not found dead in bed in the workhouse. In 1853, Buckby and Joseph Elliott, as secretary and chair of the Framework Knitters Committee, lent their support to a bill which would prevent employers making unjustified stoppages from wages paid. Buckby was consistently attacked in the Leicester Chronicle and Journal as an agitator and one who used violent language and claimed he and his close collaborator, Joseph Elliott, had been paid 30/- a week.

Following the defeat of Sir Henry Halford’s bill on frame rents, Barkby and Elliot threw themselves into a campaign to reduce the price of bread. This was triggered by a slump in the hosiery trade which had put many out of work. Buckby and Elliot organised meetings and petitioned the mayor on the issue. Traditionally bakers sold a "quartern" loaf which ought to have weighed four pounds. Buckby argued that some bakers carried on their business in direct 'violation and impunity' to the law selling bread 4-8oz lighter than it should be. He also drew attention to the millers who adulterated flour by adding alum. The anti Dear Provision Association successfully petitioned the Council to reinstate the public servant who had checked weights and measures. The campaign also held meetings for women only. (see Mrs Woodford). They also took the campaign to Hinckley where they were joined by John Sketchley.

At this time, Buckby stood with those opposed to closing pubs on Sunday. He opposed the "perpetual meddling of the Sabbatarians who so recklessly attempt to deprive the working classes of their just rights and privileges." At a meeting in the Pasture, he told the crowd:

The " black slugs preached to them that they would have a house above, not made with hands; but what they wanted, and what they had a right to have, was a house below to live in. It was said the curse of God would rest upon them for being discontented, and for meeting on a Sunday to state their grievances. He (George Buckby) did not care for the curse of God; there was a much greater curse than that to fear - the curse of oppression and tyranny. While the people were starving, the parsons and those who had wrung the money out of the sweat of the working men, stood calmly by, and did not offer any assistance. (1855)

With Joseph Elliott, he convened a meeting in 1856 to condemn the Council for refusing to allow a band to play on Sunday afternoons on the racecourse. (Victoria Park).

Both Buckby and Elliott were treated as a ‘demagogues and disturbers.’ They were victimised by middle-men and manufacturers and late in 1856, they took refuge in emigration to the United States and where they settled in Germantown, Philadelphia and Buckby found work as a fancy goods weaver. Because of the local hosiery industry, quite a number from Leicester settled in the town and a least one man from Leicester was killed fighting in the Federal army during the Civil War. 

In 1866, Thomas Cook paid him a visit whilst he was travelling in the United States and found him living in a neat little house of five rooms, but had not involved himself with trade unions or politics. It is interesting to note that in 1871, this one time opponent of co-operation with the middle classes led a committee with Joseph Elliott which sent £24 from Germantown towards the cost of John Biggs' statue. Three years later, in 1874, frame-rents were finally outlawed.

Sources:  Leicester Chronicle, 18th May 1844, 6th March & 18th December 1852, 22 April 1854, 24 November 1855, 8th December 1855, 24th Feb 1866, Leicestershire Mercury, 31st July 1847, 10th, 17th June 1848 22nd July 1848, 8th December 1855, 5th July 1856, Leicester Guardian 24th February 1866, Leicester Journal, 30th July 1847, 14th December 1855, 22nd February 1856, 15th September 1871.A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, Leicester 1954, J.F.C. Harrison, Chartism in Leicester in Asa Briggs Chartist Studies,


Clement J. Bundock

Born Wood Green, 20th January 1892, died 1961 (I.L.P. and Labour Party)

Clement Bundock said that he owed his education entirely to Council schools and to his love of reading. He set out to become a journalist and joined the staff of the  Christian Commonwealth. He was greatly influenced by A. Fenner Brockway, and 1911 he  went to Manchester as sub-editor of the I.L.P.'s national paper, the Labour Leader. Here, he began the work as an I.L.P. propagandist and spoke for the I.L.P. at public meetings all over the country.  In 1916, he was a contributor to "Why I Am A Conscientious Objector: Being Answer to the Tribunal Catechism" with Walter Ayles, A. Fenner Brockway, A. Barratt Brown.

By 1919, he was editor of Leicester Pioneer and manager of the Blackfriars Press. From Easter 1920, to Easter, 1922, he was the Midlands representative on the National Council of the 1.L.P. According to Len Hollis, he was criticised for his outspoken editorial condemning police brutality during the Rupert Street demonstration by the unemployed in 1921. He was President of the Leicester Labour Party in 1922. In 1923, he was the Labour candidate for the Bosworth Division coming second in the poll in a three-cornered fight. That year, he was involved with a local No More War demonstration.  

During the General Strike, in May 1926, he attempted to get the TUC’s paper the British Worker printed in Leicester, but was blocked by his union the Typographical Association. The union said that the workers at the press should be on strike and not at work even if it was producing a TUC newspaper.

By the 1930's, he had become the national organiser of the National Union of Journalists and had left Leicester.  He was author of The National Union Of Journalists: A Jubilee History 1907-1957 and The Story Of The National Union Of Printing, Bookbinding And Paper Workers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959

Sources: Gloucester Citizen, 2nd March 1923


Maximilian Holyoake Bunton

Born: Banbury Oxfordshire, December 1855 (Socialist League, Secularist and Co-operator)

Max Bunton's father William Bunton (1823-1893) was a leader of the co-operative movement in Banbury and a bookseller and newsagent. He was an Owenite and Chartist, who suffered imprisonment in the days of the chartist agitation. He named his son after the secularist G.J. Holyoake and published the “Banbury Co-operative Tracts” together with John Butcher. 

In 1875, Maximilian was a clerk at the co-op store in Banbury and in 1877 married Matilda Wyman in Leicester. Around 1878, Max became the secretary of the Midland Federal Co-operative Corn Mill Society in Ash Street which was owned jointly by several co-operative societies. John Butcher, had proposed building the mill and Max's appointment does have the air of nepotism about it.

Max became prominent in the local co-operative movement and contributed articles to the Leicester Co-operative Record with titles like 'Work. or why do men starve.’  He also became secretary of the Secular Society and was a regular lecturer at meetings at the Secular Hall on subjects such as 'Heresy and Persecution,' 'Garibaldi' or 'Charles Darwin.' 

Max was also secretary of the local Socialist League branch and as a result was responsible for bringing several Socialist League members to speak at the Secular Hall. He disagreed with the League's position on the co-op movement, in his view,

“Wealth, position, class distinction, blue blood and favouritism, would soon be removed from their present holders if Co-operation was more fully carried out.”

In a letter to John Mahon (secretary of the Socialist League) he said that he found the word revolution, contained in the League’s manifesto a “great stumbling block to us in the provinces.”  He also corresponded with Edward Aveling. (Karl Marx’s son-in-law)  Bunton was also active in the Liberal Party and in the anti-vaccination agitation.

In December 1887, the Federal Co-operative Corn Mill went into voluntary liquidation. Although mill had been financed by a number of different co-operative societies, their reluctance to buy its flour meant the mill had been struggling for some time. However in the reports given  to its co-operative backers, the failure was blamed on bad management and auditing.

It is possible that Corn Mill's financial crash had rendered Max's position as a rising star in local co-operative movement as untenable. Drastic steps were required and in 1887, Max Bunton changed his name to John W. Gazey and then he and his wife emigrated to the United States.  The Corn Mill's debts were born by its shareholders and was taken over and run by the Leicester Co-operative Society.

Max, now John, found a job in Brooklyn working as a bookkeeper where his services were 'greatly sought after, because of his training received in the bankruptcy office of the English Government.'  In 1908 moved to Roselle Park, Union County, New Jersey. There he worked as the borough's auditor for five years and was Justice of the Peace of Union County for 17 years.

Max/John was mainly responsible in securing a valuable piece of ground in the centre of the town to build the Borough Hall. Judge Gazey also helped established a free public library and kept it in operation for two years before it was offered to the Borough Council. He bought the house he lived in and set out trees, vines and fruit bushes and gained notoriety as an expert in the cultivation of fruit.

Sources: Oxford Journal, 13th  October 1877, Leicester Co-operative Record, December 1883, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, Leicester Chronicle, 2 February 1884, International Institute of Social History (IISH): Socialist League (UK) Archives, Banbury Advertiser 10th November 1927

William Burden

Born c1811, died May 1853 (Chartist leader, Allotmenter and Owenite)

William Burden was was described as 'one of the leading Chartists in this town, and one of the most intelligent and judicious, though, at the same time, one of the most firm of their number. He lately resided Nottingham, and we believe he was a Secretary the Chartist Association there.' (1841) He was a self educated framework knitter and warp hand and also attended the Owenite Social Institution. This led him to being accused of being a 'Socialist who burnt bibles.' He described his accusers as:

Men who never seriously think, but are always ready to believe; men whose disrelish for intellectual improvement has made them scarcely able to discriminate between a comma and a comet; and in whose hands to witness a book containing information would as great a novelty, as to hear parrot parse sentence of grammar; men who bawl mightily their unbounded veneration for the Bible, but think nothing of violating its most vital injunctions continually; men who adhere more strictly to the contents of a barrel, than the contents of the Bible.

In 1840 he argued that Chartists should; 'not support any government conducted on Whig, Tory, or any other principle, that refuses to concede....Universal suffrage.' Burden was consequently critical of the alliance between 'aristocracy and democracy,' when the Leicester Chartists, Cooper, Markham and Swain gave their support to the Tory candidate in the 1841 Nottingham election.

Rejecting John Bigg's call for Household Suffrage, he argued for the People's Charter saying that:

"while property and not person is the qualification to vote for Representatives Parliament, wealth will always find means to exercise undue influence, and the creators of that wealth be prevented from occupying their justly entitled position." 

Though he shared Cooper's view that the repeal of the Corn laws would enable manufacturers to pay lower wages, he was one of many Chartists who were alienated by Thomas Cooper’s tactics,  He was the author of essays on " Wages" and " National Secular Education" (1852) and wrote verse which was published in the Leicestershire Mercury. Burden also opposed the levying of church rates. The Tory Leicester Journal reporting that during the Church Rate meeting of St Mary's Parish:

A man named Burden, a Socialist, who also belonged to the conscientious clique, opposed the rate upon principle; he did not approve of such an establishment being kept up, and after rambling on for some time to the disgust of all present, declared that he would not send his children to the Church school, or, in fact, to any other school, where they would be taught to "submit to their Spiritual Pastors and Masters."

In 1842, William Burden was secretary of the Labourer's Friend Society (later the Allotment Society) which advocated making allotment gardens available as a way of avoiding destitution. It was called the Cottage Garden Plan and the deputies of the town's Freemen were urged to use their land on Freemen's Common for allotments and this was begun in 1843. The town council was also asked to do likewise and land was rented in Gaol-lane. Thomas Cook was also involved with the Allotment Society for a time. By 1846, 100 acres of land was occupied as allotments.

Within the last few weeks the appearance of this locality has wonderfully altered for the better. Instead of now beholding, formerly, one unvaried patch of grazing ground, there is presented to the sight numerous and beautiful summer houses, and plots of garden laid out and planted with taste and effect. By far the greater part of the common is in progress of cultivation, and we doubt not, ere summer comes it will present one of the most delightful places of attraction the neighbourhood. Many of the occupiers have spared neither labour nor expense in order to give a pleasing tone the general appearance, and is confidently anticipated that it will be more like one well-ordered garden than a number of allotments nor there any fear but that in future, it will be the favourite promenade for the inhabitants of the town. (see also Lawrence Staines)

 On his death the Leicestershire Mercury described him as a good and true man .... well known as a thoughtful and worthy representative Working Men's views and feelings.

Sources: Leicestershire Mercury, 22 February, 18th April 1840, 2nd January, 24th April 1841, 28 May, 18 June 1842, 20th April 1844, 17 January, 29 August 1846, 10 April 1847, 26 February 1848, 21 May 1853, Leicester Chronicle, 22 April 1843, 9 March 1844, Leicester Journal, Friday 15th October 1841

Joseph Burgess

Born: Failsworth, Lancs. 1853, died:1934 (I.L.P.)

Burgess was from Manchester and went to work at the age of 6 in a card-cutting workshop. His first wife died of TB aged 21. He worked in the hosiery trade and founded the short lived labour newspaper ‘The Oldham Operative’ in 1884, he then worked for the ‘Cotton Factory Times and Workman’s Times.’ He was a member of the I.L.P.’s First national Administrative Council.

“Joseph Burgess editor of the “Workman’s Times” was requested by the Socialists of Leicester and a majority of the Trades Council to contest the bye-election as an Independent Labour Candidate. Burgess agreed and the I.L.P. threw themselves into the work in a vigorous fashion, and the funds for the campaign were furnished by the ‘Clarion,’ ‘Labour Leader,’ ‘Workman’s Times’ and ‘Weekly Times and Echo,’ which had been appealing for weeks past for funds for a bye-election. There were only six days for the fight. An immense amount of work was done, the local Labour men working rapidly. Broadhurst and Hazell got in (Liberals), but Burgess polled 4,402 votes. And so the movement spreads.”( Tom Mann)

In 1895, Joseph Burgess contested the general election polling 400 less votes than the year before. Apparently, the I.L.P. had caused some offence to some electors by conducting election meetings on a Sunday. Burgess' radicalism ended ignominiously, he resigned from the ILP in 1915 following its opposition to the First World War and then became a supporter H.M. Hyndman. He returned to Leicester in 1918 to support T.F. Green, the pro war, anti-MacDonald candidate.

Sources: The Labour Annual for 1896, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism


E. Burns

Born:  ? died:  ? (National Union of Railwaymen)

E. Burns became president of the Trades Council in 1915. In November 1916, he presided over a conference on Adult Suffrage in Leicester addressed by Sylvia Pankhurst. He moved that "That this Conference, realising that all men and women have an equal claim to the franchise, calls upon the Government to introduce, not a Registration Bill, but a Franchise Bill, to give a vote to every man and woman who has reached the age of twentyone years." In doing so he mentioned that a very similar resolution had recently been passed unanimously by the Trades Council.

Sources: Woman's Dreadnought, 2nd December 1916



Burton's shop at 3 Haymarket after the building of the Clocktower.

John Burton

Born: Collingham, Nottinghamshire c1808, died Leicester 1881  (Radical Liberal)

John Burton was a printer and bookbinder by trade. He is best known for his photographic studios and as the prime mover in the building of Leicester's Clock Tower. However, as a 'Biggsite' radical he also played a very active part in the public life of Leicester. By 1839 he was one of the two secretaries of the Leicester Mechanics' Institute and continued in association with Institute for many years. Burton was the son of a Leicester schoolmaster, who composed the hymn "Holy Bible, book divine" which was well known at the time.

In 1841, Burton moved from his Southampton Street premises and set up in business at 3 Haymarket, just opposite today's Clock Tower. (It can be seen on the carte de visite on the left)  In 1843, he became the proprietor of the Leicestershire Mercury which had previously had something of a chequered career. The paper's first proprietor Albert Cockshaw became bankrupt in 1840 and his successor, H.A. Collier, had lost a small fortune. Although his tenure at the Mercury was brief, Burton had more success with the paper than the previous proprietors. In contrast to the Whig supporting Chronicle and the Tory Journal, the Mercury was decidedly radical in its politics and Burton outlined the principles of the paper as being the: faithful advocate of Complete Political Enfranchisement, or Representation co-extensive with Taxation - of the unrestricted Freedom of Commerce and Labour - and of the entire Freedom of Religion from any connexion with, or control by, the state. Initially the day to day running of the paper was placed in hands of W. S. Darkin, whilst Burton gave his attention to his stationary business. However Darkin retired through illness and Burton was editor and printer from May 1844 until February, 1846.

Burton's shop had a range of products beyond the usual items of stationary including sheet music, violins, fifes, cellos and accordions. In 1846, he advertised a huge range of quack medicines including: The Original Widow Welch's Female pills, Enouy's Pills for Small Pox, Hooping-cough and Croup, Dr Stolberg's Voice Lozenges, strongly recommended to Clergymen, Ministers, Singers, Actors and Public Speakers and the Poor Man's Friend, or Ointment of Many Virtues for Ulcerated Legs and Eruptions every description. From the 1850s, the shop also stocked a wide range of artist's materials.

In 1844, Burton published a plan of Leicester and this street map was later used for the yearly reports by the Medical Officers of Health to show the location of deaths from various diseases. In 1846, he issued a prospectus for "Leicester Illustrated" which was to be a set of engravings of the town, though it seems that only a couple of prints were issued. He published a number of radical pamphlets and made at least one of the illustrations, a book plate, in Thomas Emery's Comic History of Leicester (1851) which he published. In 1847 Burton sold his interest in the Mercury to George Smallfield, who remained as sole proprietor and editor until February, 1854. Under Cockshaw and Collier  the Mercury had been sympathetic to the Chartists and although Burton favoured complete suffrage, Burton and Smallfield gave John Biggs the Mercury's support and tended to ignore the Chartists. 

Burton had a strong interest in the arts and with John Flower, he became the secretary of the Leicestershire Art Union (later Leicestershire Fine Arts Society). This held its first exhibition in December 1849.  The Society attempted to establish a permanent art gallery on the upper floor of the Town Museum, but this was frustrated by the Literary and Philosophical Society who effectively torpedoed the idea.

Burton was very active in Liberal politics and was chairman of the Middle Margaret's Ward Liberal Committee. He would have stood for election to the Town Council, but was not eligible since he held a contract with the Corporation.  At Whitsun 1853, the was a huge demonstration to mark the defeat of a Tory sponsored petition designed to unseat the town's two radical MPs, Gardner and Walmsley. Burton hung festoon across the road (from today's T.K. Max/Body Shop to the Clocktower) with flag pendent from the centre on which was inscribed "Truth Triumphant." The Mercury commented that:

"Whether these words have any revolutionary or insurrectionary or treasonable or murderously esoteric meaning in them (i.e. to Tory eyes)" we are unable to say. Certainly it is, that the fact of this festoon and flag being fastened by a rope to the house of Mr. Burton, subjected him to a domiciliary visit from well-known Tory magistrate, accompanied by a policeman."

Burton refused to take it down and his continued support for the radical cause was shown in 1857 when he was one of many speakers a demonstration following the defeat of Sir Joshua Walmsley. He siad that the defeat was "accomplished by a combination so unnatural, so dishonourable, that the participants themselves must forever feel it to be a blot on their political character." He was referring to the former radicals Winks and Mursell who had thrown in their lot with the Whigs on the issue of keeping the Sabbath holy. That year, Burton became the Secretary of the new Leicester Liberal Electors' Association which was the mainspring of support for the Biggsite radicals in Leicester politics. Burton was also John Bigg's printer.

Firth, also a bookseller and stationer, had opened a photographic studio on Granby Street c1856. In 1858,  Burton followed suite and was assisted by his sons Walter and Oliver who described their occupations as 'photographer' in the 1861 census. In 1862, they formed the firm of John Burton & Sons and from 1863 they adapted their premises as a "Salon for the Exhibition of Photographic Art Productions of every Class."  The top floor of his shop had roof lights and large windows to facilitate photography. The business was successful and studios were opened in Birmingham, Derby and Burton-on-Trent. In December 1862, Burton advertised a "large photograph, painted in oils, of the 'Directors of the Midland Railway' which was put on view at his premises. Over painting photographs was one of the services advertised by the Burtons.

Burton was a persistent campaigner for the embellishment of the town and his achievements have left their mark on the face of modern Leicester. In 1862, his campaign against the "Eastgates obstruction" met with success when the pile of buildings which were regarded as a great obstruction, eyesore and danger, were purchased by the Corporation and then demolished. Burton then came up with the idea of a monument, to stand in its place. The money was raised by public subscription and following the removal of the Haymarket to Humberstone Gate the Clock Tower was built, being completed in 1868.

Burton's skill as a fund raiser led to the erection of the statue to Robert Hall in 1871. Following John Biggs' death, Burton advocated that the town should have a statue of Biggs too. He was a popular figure and many radicals helped raise funds for the project. The marble statue of Biggs was unveiled on 15 April 1873 by the sculptor, George Lawson.

John Burton married Martha Neal and together they had at least four sons - Alfred Henry (b. 1834), Walter John (b. 1836), Oliver (b. c.1841) and John William (b. 1845). All four sons were trained in their father's business. The studios in Birmingham and Derby closed around the time Walter and Alfred Burton emigrated to New Zealand where they became very successful photographers. Martha Neal died in 1858 and he married Mercy Neal in 1859.

It would seem that Burton's negatives, including significant large format pictures of Leicester  were recycled for the glass during World War I.

Sources: Leicester Journal, 14th December 1849, Leicestershire Mercury 30th December 1843, 12th December 1846, 25th October 1851, 21st May, 3rd December 1853, 11th November 1854, Leicester Chronicle, 22nd July 1857, 13th June 1868, 12th February 1881, R. H. Evans, The Biggs Family of Leicester  LAHS 1972-73, Brett Payne & David Simkin, Derbyshire Photographers' Profiles, Derek Fraser, The Press in Leicester c1790-1850


C.W.S. Duns Lane factory in 1949

C.W.S. Wheatsheaf Works, Knighton Fields in 1892

John Butcher

Born: Brackley, Northamptonshire 12th October 1833, died: March 1921 (Liberal, Co-operator)

John Butcher's father died when he was three and he was taken charge of by his grandfather, a highly-respectable shoe manufacturer in Brackley. John was sent to a local academy at an early age, and received what was considered at that time a liberal education. On leaving school he learned the trade of shoemaking.

In 1863, he moved to Banbury, where he became secretary of the Temperance Society, and in that and following year organizing a series of working men's demonstrations in favour of total abstinence. He also joined the National Reform League in 1863 and became  very active in the campaign to extend the franchise. With others organized a great torchlight procession and public meeting, which was addressed by the former Chartist Ernest Jones. He had also been influenced by Robert Owen's idea which led him towards the ideas of co-operation.

In April, 1866,  John Butcher was one of the instigators of the Banbury Co-operative society. He was no 1 member and was appointed secretary at the first meeting, continuing to hold that office until he moved to Leicester. In 1872, he  chaired a meeting in support women's suffrage in Banbury.

Along with  people like Lloyd Jones, he argued that the C.W.S. should start manufacturing goods for local co-operative societies and published (with William Bunton)
the “Banbury Co-operative Tracts."
The CWS was already manufacturing biscuits and he told the board that “biscuits were a luxury and boots were a necessity” and  advocated that a boot and shoe factory be set up in Leicester. His advice was taken and in September 1873, the CWS opened a boot factory in Leicester in Dun's Lane with Butcher as manager. That year he was elected to the Board of the Co-operative Congress.

He became the driving force behind the expansion of co-operation in Leicester the 1870s. In January 1873, he proposed the construction of a Co-operative Corn Mill to run on a Federal principal, which was designed by Thomas Hind. He was a member of the board of Leicester Co-operative Society and in 1875 he persuaded the board to buy a block of property on High Street where a larger department store could be built. This was also designed by Thomas Hind.

Managed by Butcher, the West End shoe works rapidly expanded and became the principal supplier of footwear to every retail society in the country. Butcher left Dun's Lane in 1878 and became the director of Freeman, Hardy and Willis and in 1880 he became a partner in E. Jennings and co. On the death Edwin Dadley in 1885, he was persuaded to return to manage the CWS factory. 

By the late 1880s, the capacity at the Dun's Lane and Enderby factories could not meet the demand for CWS boots and shoes. In 1889, Butcher visited America and saw the latest shoe making machinery and American methods of shoe production. The ideas he brought back were utilised in the vast new Wheatsheaf Works. Equipped with modern machinery. it opened in Knighton Fields in 1891 with Butcher in charge.

John Butcher believed that the mechanisation of shoe making in factories brought benefits both to the workers and to the public. In an article on Shoe Machinery in the CWS Annual of 1890, he decried the opposition of older workers to the new processes:
"It had been the custom to “close” the seams of boot and shoe uppers by hand. With the “clams” between his knees, holding the upper in position, and with bent back and straining eyes, the closer plied his awl and threads the day through; and wife and children, if he had them, plied theirs also, all for a meagre wage. The sewing machine came in. It threatened the closer; he feared it, and appealed to his fellow workmen to strike against its use. He could not foresee what a lightener of toil it was to prove; what a means of escape from a form of labour that was unhealthy as it was ill paid; that robbed his home of comfort and his children of the opportunities of education, while it warped their young bodies and hindered their development."
He contrasted the days of the dull and dirty garret workshop with the modern factory where machinists and fitters were "working in a clean, well-lighted, wholesome apartment, and will, likely as not, be singing in unison as they work, making labour a pleasure."

Butcher's determination to expand the CWS with new factories equipped with the most modern machinery, sometimes brought him into conflict with the workforce - as did the use of country labour in the finishing processes.

Butcher had helped the inception of Equity Shoes and he had also assisted in their discussion of mechanisation by letting their committee look at the machinery at the Wheatsheaf factory. However, he was not a supporter of the labour co-partnership idea. It was "the creation," he said, "of an aristocracy of labor." In his opinion, the duty of co-operative manufacturers was to get the goods to the consumer at the cheapest possible price, and "they have no right to make this price dearer by paying more than the market rate of wages."

Jimmy Holmes saw Butcher's mechanisation programme as an attempt by Butcher to ‘smash the Equity’ and there were also claims that the CWS had brought pressure on several leather suppliers to cut supplies to the infant co-operative. Butcher denied this and the claims are not repeated in the official histories of Equity.

In 1899, the trade union leader William Inskip returned from a tour of factories in the U.S.A. and said that "I am of opinion that the Co-operative Wheatsheaf Works, Leicester, so ably presided over by Mr. John Butcher, ..... are far superior examples of a model factory.... both for the sanitary arrangements and conveniences for the workpeople.... "

From 1883-1891, he was a Liberal Town Councillor for North St Margaret's Ward. He was largely instrumental in removing the Wednesday Market from Highcross Street to the Market Place. He attracted a degree of notoriety with his support for the opening of the Museum and Free Library on Sundays, but won the day. He chaired public meetings addressed by Charles Bradlaugh and G.J. Holyoak as was closely associated with the secularists.

John Butcher was a friend of Joseph Arch and the Rev. Page Hopps, he was always a keen Liberal, advocate of temperance, a Free Trader active in the Workmen’s Peace Association and an opponent of vaccination. He was secretary of the Leicester Liberal Club in 1889 and also founded Semper Eadem freemason's lodge. He was a member of the Board of the Leicester Co-operative Society for many years, active in the Co-operative Union and was also on the board of the Leicester Co-operative Hosiery Manufacturing Society. He retired from the C.W.S. in 1904. He died aged 88 and was cremated. Despite his association with the Secular Society he was given a religious funeral.

Sources: Banbury Guardian 31st October 1872, The Beehive 3rd July 1875, Leicester Chronicle 15th December 1877, 14th April 1883, 8th April 1899, Leicester Daily Post 7th & 11th March 1921, Leicester Co-operative Society, (1898) Co-operation in Leicester, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, Henry Demarest Lloyd: Labor Copartnership, (sic) 1898 , Percy Redfern, The Jubilee History of the C.W.S., Elizabeth Crawford: The Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland, A Regional Survey

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© Ned Newitt Last revised: April 12, 2021.



















Radical History

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