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P.T.A. Campbell

In 1932, P.T.A. Campbell became a founder member and secretary of the Socialist League in Leicester. Led by E.F. Wise, the former MP for Leicester East, the Socialist League represented many former I.L.P. members, who disagreed with its decision to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. These included, Aneurin Bevan, Clement Atlee and Michael Foot.

 Campbell had lived in Germany from 1928 to 1931 had his experiences had led him to vigorously oppose Fascism in England. In 1934 he was giving talks on the "The Menace of Fascism." He was also active in the Co-op movement and Co-op Party which was to the fore of the anti-fascist movement in Leicester. By 1936, Campbell was calling for a people's front against fascism. He told an anti fascist  meeting outside Granby Halls where Owald Mosley & his blackshirts were holding a rally that "We strongly object to the attitude of the police and the expense to which ratepayers have been put to subsidise Mosley's meetings by the organisation of the police force outside the Halls."

He was a strong supporter of the Unity Campaign  which sort to bring together all left-wing political forces in the country, notably the ILP and the Communist Party, in an anti-fascist United Front. The Labour Party, however, regarded this as yet another form of entry-ism by the Communists and in January 1937 it disaffiliated the Socialist League, giving its members until June to quit either the Labour Party or the League. Although the League dissolved itself in May 1937, Campbell stuck to his guns and was presumably expelled from the Labour Party. He became secretary of Leicester Socialist Society, which promised to stand Socialist candidates in Aylestone and Westcotes wards in the November municipal elections. A single candidate was put forward in Spinney Hill getting just 122 votes. Campbell became the secretary of the Leicester Secular Society in 1937.

Sources: Leicester Evening Mail, 18th November 1932, 24th October 1934, 9th July 1935, 18th, 25th May & 9th Oct 1936, 1st June 1937

Evelyn Carryer speaking outside the Old School House at 12 Brougham Street  on the Humberstone Road in 1907. During her election campaign she held a series of street meetings assisted by Alice Hawkins who is probably the other figure in this photo.

Evelyn Carryer

Born: Newcastle under Lyme, Staffs c1862 died 1937 (L.L.W.S.S. & National Union of Women Workers)

Evelyn Carryer’s parents were in business, which gave her financial independence. In 1893, she was elected as a Liberal candidate for the Board of Guardians, though she seemed to have changed her political allegiances in later years. In 1904, she was the secretary of the Leicester and Leicestershire Women’s Suffrage Society and wrote for the Leicester Pioneer under the sobriquet of ‘Some Women.’ In her column in 1906, she promoted the Labour League of Women and suggested the revival of the old Leicestershire custom of leaving a bale of chaff outside the house of a wife beater to show where thrashing took place.

She contributed an article on glove stitchers to the illustrated handbook which accompanied the Daily News Sweated Industries Exhibition which opened in London and later came to Leicester. She was secretary of the National Anti-Sweating League, Leicester.

In 1907, the Leicester Pioneer noted that she was now unable to work with the Liberals and backed her decision to run for the Guardians as an independent woman candidate. She is at once sympathetic and clever and in her own quiet way has done much valuable work in the past three years.

Due to a quirk in the Franchise Act, some women were allowed to vote and stand for election to the town council. In 1907, she was duly nominated as a non party candidate for Wycliffe ward, under the auspices of the National Union of Women Workers for the Town Council and the WSPU and stood in competition with the Labour candidate, Harry Woolley. In a temperance influenced programme, she advocated the municipalisation of the milk trade, better housing standards and municipal lodging houses for women. She also advocated the stricter enforcement of regulations concerning morality. She claimed that the origin of a girl's downfall could be traced to the fact that Victoria Park could not be closed at dusk and favoured an act of parliament to correct this. She came third.

Evelyn was a founder member of the WSPU in Leicester, but came to disapprove of the lack of democratic procedures within the organisation. Within a year, she had broken with the WSPU, though she still gave it financial support and approved of its radicalism. The 1911 census was boycotted by the WSPU and Evelyn Carryer wrote ‘No Vote No Census’ across her form and gave no other details – other than writing ‘unenfranchised’ in the disability column. She was elected to the Board of Guardians again in 1910 and served until 1913.

Evelyn was a very active member of the Leicestershire & Rutland Citizens' League which campaigned against the provisions of the 1902 'Balfour' Education Act. As well as abolishing school boards, the Act had provided state aid to Church Schools. The Citizens' League objected to Nonconformists having to contribute to the upkeep of Anglican schools and it sponsored passive resistance. In 1905, Evelyn was among nearly a thousand local people summonsed for the refusal to pay rates in protest. This campaign continued for several years and in 1909 there were 360 summonses issued, 218 people had their property distrained to pay the rates and six were sent to prison.

Sources: Women's Suffrage Record 1st October 1904, London Daily News, 5th May 1906, Leicester Chronicle 6th March 1911, Leicester Daily Post 20th July 1905, 13th March 1906, 30th November 1907, Richard Whitmore, Alice Hawkins and the Suffragette Movement in Edwardian Leicester, Shirley Aucott, Women of Courage, Vision and Talent, 2008 Women and Her Sphere: Suffrage Stories: The 1911 Census: The Leicester Suffragettes’ Mass Evasion.

Tom Carter

Born: c1862 (I.L.P.& Labour Party)

Tom Carter was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and secretary of the local branch. He was a founding member of the I.L.P. and later became treasurer and minute secretary of I.L.P. After being out of work, he helped found the Leicester C o-operative Engineers' Society in 1894 which became profitable in 1897. He was appointed a delegate to Trades Council in 1895 and became its president in 1899 and its secretary in 1903.

“The Secretary of the Leicester Trades Council has one fault he is too modest. When it's a case of some work to be done, Mr. Carter is there: but if he is required to present himself much before the public eye, he would very much prefer to step on one side and allow others to take his place. When, thirty-nine years ago, he lived in rural seclusion in a little village near Bradgate Park, his farmer parents and friends hardly expected that he would leave an agricultural life to take up the more strenuous life of tile city, yet, like millions of other young men, town life attracted him. In 1886, he went to Birmingham to work in the engineering trade, migrating again to Leicester a few years later…”

“Mr. Carter has made several plucky but unsuccessful fights to obtain a seat on one or the other of our municipal councils. When he ran for the Board of Guardians in 1898, he only lost the seat by one vote, and the next year was but thirty-five votes behind in a contest for a seat on the Town Council. ….Mr. Carter is not a man who makes much outward show, but all those who come in contact with him recognise in the Secretary of the Trades Council a man of sterling worth and unflinching integrity.”

Sources: Leicester Trades Council, Trade Union Congress Leicester, Official Souvenir, 1903, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism


J.C. Chambers

Born: ? died: ? (Social Democratic Federation)

J.C. Chambers was a member an organiser of the short-lived general union, the Midland Counties Labour League which attempted to recruit unskilled workers such as tramway workers. He was also the secretary of the Leicester branch of the Social Democratic Federation and often spoke at open air meetings. In 1892, Chambers set out his views:

by electing working-men representatives on Town and County Councils, Boards of Guardians, School Boards, and Parliament, these bodies would acquire land and provide capital to work productive industries of various kinds in addition to those (such as gas and water) which are already in the hands, of the people. He looked to the improved education of the people to lead to a gradual advance on the lines of the great advances of the past fifty years, and believed that Englishmen would not join in any violent and sudden change. What was wanted was extension of the franchise, payment of members, annual Parliaments, and one man one vote; and these reforms could be obtained through the ballot- box. The same machinery of government which was now used by the idle-rich against the working-poor should be used to obtain possession of land and capital in order that they might be used in the interest of all, and not remain the monopoly of an idle class.

He also told a meeting in Humberstone-gate that:

we have got some bright specimens on the Town Council.... We have all those religious and temperance fanatics on the Town Council and they want to tell us what we are io eat and drink, how we shall walk about and how we shall conduct ourselves.... Look at the Free Library Committee. What do they do? Instead of putting the papers on the stands as they are published, they rub the blacking brush over them.* ("Shame," and " Lunatics") Then there are papers published in the interests of the workers, and they have been offered to the Library Committee free if they will put them on the stands and tables, but they refuse. Simply to keep the working class ignorant of their own dealings (a voice: Ah that's it). But we must show them that they are not our masters and that they are not going to boss us. ...They had too long been deceived by both Liberals and Tories. They found they had generally been sold it by both sides....and now their party in the future should be a labour party. Among the things they wanted was the nationalisation of the land, and the railways under state control like the post office was.

* At that time 'sporting news' (presumable racing results) were redacted from the newspapers in the Central Library.

Sources: Leicester Chronicle 3rd September 1892, Leicester Journal, 23rd September 1892

Jabez Chaplin

Born: 20th Feb, 1860, died: Sept. 3rd 1927 (I.L.P, Labour Party & T.U.L.P)

Jabez Chaplin was born into a family numbering many generations of framework knitters. His grandfather had given evidence to the Royal Commission on the Condition of Framework Knitters (1845). However, Chaplin’s father was crippled and earned a precarious living in Hinckley playing the violin and later as boot and shoe-maker. He did not attend school and his only education came from his well-read father. He was sent out to work at the age of 8 as a winder. At the age of 13, Jabez Chaplin walked to Leicester with all his belongings wrapped in a red bandana where he found work in a hosiery factory, joining the old Framework Knitters’ Union in the late 1870s. Whilst he was a lad, he spent his evenings at the Vaughan Working Men’s College, Union Street. In 1885, he joined the new Leicester Amalgamated Hosiery Union and within a year he was a member of the executive, playing an active role in the strike of February 1886. In 1887 he became president and in 1893, he became Joint Secretary with Jimmy Holmes which was a full-time position. With Holmes’ disgrace and death in 1911, he became secretary and continued in that position until his own death.

Chaplin was apparently a seemingly gentle and quiet man, but was also extremely strong willed and had a forceful and compelling personality. Once he had made up his mind to serve a cause he would give everything to it. He was strongly opposed to compulsory smallpox vaccinations and stumped the city in opposition. He held street corner meetings, wrote and handed out leaflets denouncing the idea until it was eventually scrapped. He was not a man afraid of unpopularity or criticism. He was a complete individualist, both in his public and private life. When his wife died, he married her sister-something almost unknown then and to many quite immoral. He lived an extremely austere life-he neither smoked nor drank, had little interest in material possessions and, until he was Mayor, had never attended a cricket or football match in his life. This tended to irritate those who worked with him. He was a leading member of the circle at Silver Street Spiritualist Hall. He was also a temperance supporter, though he favoured persuasion rather than prohibition.

He became known as ‘a great platform man.’ He had a resounding, clarion voice and it was said that no one was ever heard to complain that they could not hear him. According to one newspaper “his blend of rich humour in his practical, homely talks made him one of the most popular speakers.” He was able to make his arguments simple and lucid and could speak easily and fluently. Up until 1893, he was also the Liberal general committee member for Latimer ward. However, he left the Liberal Party to become one of the founders of the I.L.P. in Leicester. He was the fourth I.L.P. candidate to be elected to the Town Council and he represented Aylestone from 1898 until he lost the seat in 1901, possibly as a result of his support of the Boers during the South African war. He soon retook the seat and was made an alderman in 1909.

However his support for the First World War led him to break with the party. His enthusiasm for the war effort went so far as to allow the Leicester Hosiery Union’s offices to be used by the local recruiting sergeant. He told a public meeting in 1918, that he wanted to show his disgust at the methods now being practised by the so-called leaders of the so-called Labour Party. Speaking of the men the seamen on the platform, he said:

“there were certain men and women who had eaten the bread those men had fetched across the seas, but did not have a good word for their action. (shame). He spurned such men. He hated the man who loved the German and hated the Englishman…”

As a result of his support for J.F. Green and the National Democratic Party in opposition to Ramsay MacDonald, he was expelled from the Independent Labour Party in February 1919, along with Cllr J.S. Salt. Jabez Chaplin was made Mayor in 1919 in preference to Amos Sherriff who was deemed to be too ‘unpatriotic’ for the Council at that time. Chaplin died as a result of a car accident in 1927.

Sources: Leicester Pioneer, 4th October 1902, Leicester Evening Mail, Aug 13, 1918, Richard Gurnham, The Hosiery Unions 1776-1976, Howes, C. (ed), Leicester: Its Civic, Industrial, Institutional and Social Life, Leicester 1927, Leicester Trades Council, Trade Union Congress Leicester, Official Souvenir, 1903. The Labour Party Conference 1911, Official Souvenir, Leicester 1911, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism,


William Chawner

Born: circa 1812, St Mary, Leicestershire, died 1879

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. Chawner, a glove-hand, was supported by the framework-knitters' union in the action. A verdict in favour of Chawner was given at the Leicester Assizes, but was reversed on appeal to the Queen’s Bench in 1846. The action put the union in debt and both Chawner and his father became a marked men and found it difficult to get work. 

It is possible that William Chawner is the Mr Chawner who made this contribution in 1867  to a conference of Why the Working Class Do Not Attend Church. He thought the reason was because:

they were looked down upon there with disdain. If he were to go to church or chapel as he then was, the congregation would pull their dresses on one side for fear of contamination, and offer him a seat on the back benches. The clergy and ministers did not visit the poor, and the scripture-readers only visited them between meals, when the working-men were not at home. The clergy received thousands a year, but neglected them. He had been married twenty-two years, and had never seen but one minister, and he was sent. [Rev. W. Woods: I deny that. I have been to your house once, but I was not sent. (hear, hear, and laughter.)

He had seen so much deception and so much "uppishness" in parties professing religion that he could not believe in their doctrines. They professed that Christ was all merciful and all goodness, yet he was to visit the sins of the fathers upon their children to the third and fourth generation. He wanted to know where was the justice of that? (Hear, hear.) The scriptures said, however, "The lillies of the field they toil not, neither do they spin: their Heavenly Father clothes them." The clergymen considered themselves the lilies of the valley (laughter): they toiled not, neither did they spin (renewed laughter); but they were clothed to an alarming extent, and fed to an alarming extent, while the working-man had to work hard and fare hard. (Hear, hear.) Christ said his disciples were to go into the world, and seek to save those that were lost; but the ministers went to seek where they could find most to eat. (Laughter.)

He then charged a bible-woman who had visited him with being too curious about his domestic concerns, and in reply to her remarks that she hoped he made the best use of what he did earn, told her that he didn't know about economy, but he had made five cookings out of a cow's cheek, and he did'nt suppose she could make any more of it. (Loud laughter.) He held that religion did make better fathers and mothers, but it was a religion that taught them to do unto others what they would have others do unto them. (Hear, hear.)

The above contribution might also have come from George Chawner who was sacked in 1868 by his employer J.H. Wale for being a member of a union. After remonstrating  with his workmates, Chawner was charged with intimidation and got six weeks hard labour.

Sources: Leicestershire Mercury, 24th January 1846, Leicester Chronicle, 9th March 1867, 8th February 1868, R. Bindley, The History of the Struggle for the Abolition of Frame Rents & Charges, 1875, A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester

Agnes Spencer Clarke

Born: Leicester 1870, died 1965, (I.L,P & WSPU)

Like her sister Berthe, Agnes (Aggie) Clarke was a Suffragette. Her mother was a straw bonnet maker and her father was a staff sergeant in the Leicester militia. Agnes began wok in the hosiery trade, though in 1907, Sylvia Pankhurst, describes Agnes as supporting her family by collecting laundry accounts. However, she also worked as a proof reader, probably for the Leicester Guardian.

Agnes wrote three novels on socialist themes. In 1901, she described herself as an author, having had her first novel, Glenroyst: A Story of Old Time Leicestershire published in 1898 by Batty & Company.  A year later, her second novel, Seven Girls, Sketches Of A Factory Life' published by Spencer & Greenhough appeared. This was about girls working in a laundry and a strike is one of the incidents in the book. Her third novel, First Women Minister’ was published in by Stockwell in 1941 and was a thinly veiled account of Unitarian pioneer, the Rev. Gertrude von Petzold of whom she was a supporter. Gertrude von Petzold was appointed minister of Narborough Road Free Christian Church (Unitarian) in 1904, thus becoming Britain’s first woman minister. Agnes' brother Alfred and his wife were married by Gertrude von Petzold and it is possible that they were the first couple to be married by a woman minister in the Britain.

Clarke also published a serial novel, The Wooing of Thea, in the Midland Free Press in Aug- Dec1907. It was about an orphan girl with intellectual ambitions who is rescued by a poor but honourable lodger from her drink-sodden aunt's unsuitable house, to be raised by her newly discovered relations in the North.

Agnes Clarke contributed stories to the Leicester Guardian and wrote regularly for the Midlands Free Press frequently reposting on the Suffrage movement. From 1902, she probably wrote under the sobriquet ‘Lydia’ for the Leicester Pioneer.  Although, Agnes Clarke was involved in the Suffragette movement, she escaped arrest. She recalled “being taken in charge by a tall policeman with red hair for the heinous crime of attempting to speak to Winston Churchill. Thanks to his kindly interposition on by behalf, I was released and felt very sorry for the abashed policeman.” Whilst speaking at a meeting at Northampton Square, she was hit by an orange thrown at her by a male shop assistant.

She was critical of suffragists like Edith Gittens as being one of the “women who wanted the vote but would risk nothing for it-they preferred the safe policy of conciliation.”

Sources: Jess Jenkins, Burning Passions, The Story of the Fight for Women’s Suffrage in Leicestershire 1866-1918, Record Office Exhibition 2007, A Reconstructed World: A Feminist Biography of Gertrude Richardson, Barbara Roberts, Census returns, Shirley Aucott, Women of Courage, Vision and Talent, 2008, Suffragettes, radical novelists and trade unionists in Leicester,

Bertha Maria Clarke

Born: Leicester August 1874, died: 1962 (I.L.P. & WSPU)

Bertha (Bertie) was a boot machinist and sister of Agnes with who she lived in a Victorian bungalow in Glenfield. She was a founding member of the local WSPU and was active until 1914. She was a colleague of Alice Hawkins in the break away Independent Women’s Boot & Shoe Trade Union and was a delegate to the Trades Council. Unlike her sister, she remained a committed socialist. Bertha was a very no-nonsense person who ran the household. Aggie was the intellectual one, but incredibly absent minded who depended on Bertie for pretty well everything. In 1914, Bertha dispatched copies of  the newspaper "Votes for Woman" in parcels of supplies sent to the wounded. In 1948, aged 73, she married Albert Stoney an ex-policeman.

Sources: Sources: Votes for Women, 18th September 1914, Richard Whitmore, Alice Hawkins and the Suffragette Movement in Edwardian Leicester, Shirley Aucott, Women of Courage, Vision and Talent, 2008, Suffragettes, radical novelists and trade unionists in Leicester,


Edward Clarkmead

Born: ? died: ? (I.L.P) aged

By trade Edward Clarkmead was a laster in the boot and shoe trade. In 1892, he became the first socialist to be elected to a trade union office, when he was elected as the town’s full-time agent for the NUBSO. In 1894, he attempted to persuade NUBSO to commit central funds to co-operative production, as it would “ultimately lead to the Union getting the benefit of the whole of their industry.”

Sources:  Leicester Chronicle 20th August 1892, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism


Betty Coates

Born: Romford, Essex March 12th 1926, died: 6th December 2001

She was born Betty Smith and her childhood was indelibly marked by her mother’s death from breast cancer in 1937, when Betty was just eleven years old. She was a bright pupil, receiving eight O level passes from her grammar school, but she couldn’t wait to leave school and went to work as a short hand secretary at the age of sixteen. In 1944, she moved to London together with her friend Audrey and joined ‘the war effort,’ working at the meteorological office, part of the Air Ministry.

The post-war teaching shortage gave her the chance to enlist for a one-year teacher-training course outside London and then to Nottingham, where teachers were in huge demand. Here she discovered the works of D H Lawrence, and socialist politics. She first joined the Labour League of Youth but soon met, and was won over by, activists in the Young Communist League which had many more active members. She met her husband-to-be, Ken Coates, on a ramble organised by the YCL in the Peak district, near Chesterfield. Following the Hungarian uprising she left the Communist party and returned to political activity by joining the Labour Party, of which she remained a member until her death.

Betty, now a single mother with two toddlers, returned to teaching with her characteristic vigour. By 1965 she had landed her first headship, at the newly opened Abbey Primary School in Bloxwich, near Walsall. In 1967 she moved to a new posting as headmistress of the Bell St Infants School in Wigston. Betty played an active part in the 1969 national teachers’ strike, an event which had a big effect on her politically. Betty became secretary of the Harborough Constituency Labour Party

In 1975 Betty was elected divisional secretary of the Leicestershire NUT, and a year or two later of the City of Leicester NUT as well. Having risen to the top of her profession and having become one of the most prominent women trade unionists in the area, it took a lot of courage to start a new life. But that's what Betty did at the age of 55 when she emigrated to Australia in 1981 She made a clean break of it, starting work in Melbourne’s taxation office rather than going back to teaching and she then joined the Australian Labour Party and became active once again.

Sources: Laurence Coates, author’s personal knowledge 


Job Cobley

Born: Leicester 16th March1857, died  Detroit City, Wayne Co., Michigan, USA  (I.L.P)

Job Cobley worked as an iron founder for Gimsons, eventually being made a foreman. In 1889, wages in the trade had been static for 20 years and a long strike ensued. In August of that year, he became secretary of the local branch of the Leicester Society of Ironfounders. In the following decade, he was responsible for negotiating a three weekly increases of 2/-, 1/- and 1/-. In 1892, he became a delegate to the Trades Council and its president in 1900. In 1898, he was elected as Trades Council nominee, to the Board of Guardians. He was a member of the I.L.P. and an Oddfellow. Subsequently, several of his children emigrated to the United States and he joined then during the 1920s.

Sources: The Leicester Guardian, 28th July 1900, census


Albert Cockshaw

Born: Leicestershire c1797, died Staffordshire, 1870

Albert Cockshaw was a printer on High Street and was active in support of the Reform Bill of 1832. He was the son of a schoolteacher and a radical and non-conformist. He drew large crowds when he mounted a printing press on a cart as part of the very large triumphal procession which was staged in August 1832.  Some people thought it was a stocking-frame, but it was soon understood to be:

the mighty engine: the warrior whose name was "Legion"  - which had taken so prominent a part, and performed such deeds of strength, in the great conflict of Truth and Justice with Error and Oppression.

In 1833, Cockshaw was charged with libel by the Leicester Corporation. This followed the publication of pamphlet entitled: A letter to the People of Leicester on Corporate Reform and dedicated (without permission) to the Mayor and Magistrates. The charges were eventually dismissed, not before questions were asked in the House of Commons. In 1835, the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society was launched from his house.

The following year, he founded the Leicestershire Mercury as a weekly. He ran the newspaper from 1836-1840.  The Mercury was the most sympathetic of the local papers towards Chartism in Leicester. However it did not advocate universal manhood suffrage. At first he put forward a vague idea of a franchise based upon an educational test and then supported household suffrage. Nevertheless, Cockshaw printed the Chartists' Midland Counties Illuminator up until June 1841 when he ended the arrangement. This may have been triggered by his own financial difficulties or by Thomas Cooper's support for the Tory candidate in Nottingham.

In 1842, Cockshaw became bankrupt and left Leicester for London where he  published the Nonconformist newspaper with E. Miall. He was the managing clerk of the Anti-State-Church Association for many years. He later moved to Staffordshire where his eldest daughter lived.

Sources: Leicester Chronicle, 25th August 1832, 27th April 1833, 22 January 1842, 17 Dec 1870, Derek Fraser: The Press in Leicester 1790-1850

Chapman Cohen

Born: Leicester 1st September 1868, died 4th February 1954 (Secularist)

Although Chapman Cohen was born in Leicester, his family moved to London in 1889 and most of his activity as a Secularist lecturer, journalist and writer was centred on London. He was nonetheless a regular visitor to the Secular Hall where he first lectured in 1893.

His parents, Henry (or Enoch) and Deborah, ran a confectioner’s at 12 Bedford Street and later at 36 Churchgate. (now Lucci Leatherwear) Despite his Jewish roots, his upbringing was remarkably free of religious influence. As he put it, "In sober truth I cannot recall a time when I had any religion to give up." Cohen became a popular Secularist lecturer, at his peak delivering over 200 lectures a year. In 1898 he became assistant editor of The Freethinker, and after Foote's death in 1915 he was appointed editor and also became President of the National Secular Society.

Chapman Cohen did not belong to any political party, kept jingoism out of the Freethinker during WW1 and opposed the rise of the Nazis. In addition to his many books, he wrote 18 "Pamphlets for the People" on different aspects of Secularism which sold at 2d each. A quote from one of these little tracts is still widely seen:

“Gods are fragile things, they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense. They thrive on servility and shrink before independence. They feed upon worship as kings do upon flattery. That is why the cry of gods at all times is “Worship us or we perish.” A dethroned monarch may retain some of his human dignity while driving a taxi for a living. But a god without his thunderbolt is a poor object.” (The Devil, Pioneer Press)

Cohen was a populariser of atheism and as an organizer and pamphleteer,  he did much to build up the resources of Secularism in the inter-war years.  He was was a gifted writer who had a talent for explaining complicated philosophical ideas and religion concepts in everyday language. In 1932, the Edison Bell Record Company issued a 78 record of of him speaking on The Meaning of Freethought. He was very much a precursor of Richard Dawkins. He resigned as president of the National Secular Society in 1949 and died in 1954.

Sources: National Secular Society, census returns, Almost an Autobiography, Chapman Cohen 1940


Henry Alfred Collier

Born: Thrapstone Northamptonshire 15th July 1816, died: 21st August 1863  (Journalist and Complete Suffragist)

Henry Collier moved to Leicester early in his life and worked as a reporter and sub-editor for the Leicestershire Mercury. In November 1840, he became the paper's sole proprietor, living at its premises on High Street. The Mercury was seen as the voice of the radical Baptists seem to have replaced the Unitarians as the shock troops of local radicalism. It was even suggested that J. P. Mursell of the Harvey Lane Chapel was the real editor of the paper. The rabid Tory Leicester Herald alleged he had a private room at the offices. Henry Collier was a Baptist as was his predecessor Albert Cockshaw.

Unlike Albert Cockshaw, Collier wholeheartedly supported universal manhood suffrage. Under his editorship, the Mercury gave favourable coverage to the Chartists. He engaged Thomas Cooper as a reporter and on 5th December 1840, Cooper reported on a Chartist meeting. It was this meeting that convinced Cooper to become a Chartist. Collier  made class co-operation for further reform the main theme of the paper. He wrote:
"we beseech, we implore the leaders of the people and the people themselves to unite. Union is not merely strength, but the want of it is destruction, annihilation."

In March 1842, Collier became a committee member of the   Complete Suffrage Association. He later became its secretary with the older town councillor John Collier, (also a Baptist, but no relation) as the chairman. The Complete Suffrage Association was primarily a middle class movement, with a subscription that deterred working class membership. It supported four of the Chartists six points, but some like William Biggs felt that even this was going too far. The winter of 1841-1842, had brought unemployment and poverty to many in the town and a record 5,000 were receiving poor relief. It was nevertheless proposed that the Complete Suffrage Association should advocate excluding those receiving poor relief from being allowed to the vote. This proposal was eventually dropped.

Collier's former employee, Thomas Cooper rejected and attacked the Complete Suffrage Association and stigmatised them as 'Stugites,'  (after the founder Joseph Sturge) and other Chartists like John Markham held aloof. Although the Association's attempts to unite the middle and working classes in support of extending the franchise failed, it did much to induce a schism between the Radicals and the Whigs.

Both in 1841 and 1845, Henry Collier's right to vote was challenged in the court at the Town Hall by the Tory agent. With such a small electorate every voted counted and this was a common practice even against the owner of the Leicestershire Mercury.

Despite his good intentions, Collier did not make a success of the his tenure at the Mercury and when the paper passed from his hands, he left Leicester. After living in Newcastle and elsewhere, he settled in Leeds, and become assistant editor of the Leeds Mercury. He held this position for some years until poor health forced him to retire. In the early 1860s, he joined his family in Leicester, and occupied himself as long as his remaining strength would allow in writing for the Leeds Mercury. He was 47 when he died.

Sources: Leicester Herald, 21 November 1840, Leicestershire Mercury, 25th September 1841, 12th March 1842, 11 October 1845, 29th August 1863, Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, Derek Foster, The Press in Leicester, c.I790-I850


John T. Collier

Born: Kettering c1792, died Leicester 13th March 1874 aged 82  (Complete Suffragist and Liberal)

John Collier was the son of a Baptist minister and was a miller, flour-seller and corn merchant who lived on the Southgates. He was a town councillor in the 1840s and was elected for No 6 or West Saint Mary's Ward - the poll taking place at the Castle. At that time to be eligible to serve as a councillor you needed to be worth £1,000 or have your property rated at £30.  John Collier was chairman of the middle class Complete Suffrage Association and later became a 'Biggsite' radical. He chaired the meetings at which the popular Chartist leader, Henry Vincent spoke.

In 1843, Complete Suffragists were making headway on the Town Council. He was one of five out of twelve Liberals elected, who were complete suffragists.

In 1841, this wing of the suffrage movement was at complete odds with Thomas Cooper's Shakespearian Chartists. By 1846, there was some rapprochement and he and other members of the Complete Suffrage Association held meetings with the Chartists to asked for the release of the the imprisoned Chartists Frost, Williams and Jones. At a later meeting held in the Amphitheatre on Humberstone Gate, on the same subject, Collier moved the resolution and told those assembled that:

This was not the time quarrelling amongst themselves either about minor differences. (Hear, hear.) They should all agree upon general end essential points—at least as to the repudiation of all resort to physical force. (Hisses and cheers.) That was only what their own resolution called for, and it was the only ground on which there could be any union between them and the middle classes. (Hear, hear.) ....If the people unitedly and peaceably, all moral means, continued to agitate for their rights, he believed that they would attain those rights much sooner than many people believed. It was his opinion that the principles embodied in the People's Charter must be triumphant before any material beneficial change could be wrought in the state the people of this country. (Cheers.)

By 1851, he had become an alderman and in the 1860s, he was one of those 'advanced'  Liberals who supported Edward Baines' Bill to reduce the qualification for a vote from £10 to £6 property valuation. This seemingly mild proposal failed to win parliamentary approval three times.

Sources: Leicestershire Mercury, 4th November 1843, 17th January, 4th July 1846, 8th April 1848, 16th March 1861, Leicester Journal 12th November 1847


Thomas Coltman

Born: Leicestershire c1823

During the 1840s, Thomas Coltman was an active supporter of the Anti Persecution League, a local group set up to defend freethinkers from the blasphemy laws. Later, he became a defendant in the court case for trespass brought against the 'Peoples' Band' for playing music on a Sunday on the racecourse (Victoria Park). It was reported that as many as 20,000 people had attended these Sunday concerts to the chagrin of the Sabbatarians. The lessees of the Racecourse were successful in their prosecution and he was fined £1 in damages. No more public music was heard on a Sunday in Leicester's Parks until 1895. He was also an early member of the Leicester Secular Society.

In 1871, census records his occupation as a machinist, but by 1881 he had become a successful hosiery machine manufacturer, employing 48 people. During the 1870s, he had gone into partnership with Josiah Gimson to produce hosiery machines at their works in Duke Street. They produced various models including. - circular striping machines, reeling machines, circular rib machines etc.  He must have been a talented engineer since there are several patents in his name for  improvements to knitting machines. Coltman's Patent Rib machine of 1874 was advertised as being able to a make variety of different sort of ribs. It was claimed that it could be easily worked by girls and required little power. In 1876, a Gimson and Coltman knitting machine won a prize at the Philadelphia Exhibition. In 1886, he had to defend a patent in court after it was stolen by a German firm.

He was a shareholder in the Leicester Secular Hall and President of the Secular Society. He  played a leading part in the affairs of the Society, serving on several committees specialising in the organisation of soir6es, musical entertainments.

 He was in partnership with the Gimson family until 1883, when he was discharged from this obligation under the terms of Josiah's will and continued in business on his own account. Coltman presided over the memorial service held for Josiah Gimson at the Secular Hall.

Sources: Leicester Journal, 14 August 1857, 5 November 1886, Leicester Chronicle 2nd May 1874, 14th October 1876, Leicester Secular Society minutes, census returns. Ned Newitt, Leicester's Victorian Infidels, 2019


W. Colver


Mr. W. Colver was the energetic secretary of the Leicester Branch of the Workmen's Peace Association, 100, Walnut-street. In his secretary's report of 1879 he said:

"The committee deplore that during the year the Government have entered upon two unjustifiable and entirely unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and against the Zulus. Much needless loss of life and a terrible expenditure of money have been occasioned by these wars, which have brought disgrace and humiliation upon the country, and, in the opinion of the committee, have given further proof of the wickedness and incapacity of the present Prime Minister and his administration.

 Although the war fever which for some time raged in this country has to a considerable extent abated, and no doubt will be much regretted even by the Jingoes themselves, when the cost of the recent wars and military display has to be met, the committee urge their friends not to relax their efforts for the promotion of a more righteous mode of settling disputes between nations, than the present senseless system of appeal to the sword."

The Association had support from the Radical wing of the Liberals, though was at pains to point out that the Association was for all shades of opinion. During the 1870's it conducted open air meetings in the county areas, as well as public meeting in Leicester. It faded from prominence during the 1880s, perhaps as Colver became involved in anti-vaccination campaign. During the 1890s, he was secretary of the Spinney Hill Liberals.

Sources: Leicester Chronicle , 31 March 1877, 13 September 1879, Leicester Journal,  24th September 1880

Don Connolly

Born: Thorne, 29th March 1926, died Leicester 15th January 2012 (Communist Party of Great Britain & Communist Party of Britain)

Don Connolly came from a mining family. His father was a politically active miner who moved between coalfields in order to find work. His younger brother was killed in a pit accident. Don was borne and grew up in Thorne in South Yorkshire. His elder brother fought in Spain. He started work in the Desford Colliery in 1943, where he joined his father working the 'butty system' of sub contracted labour. He worked at Desford for nearly 40 years. He married Doris in 1945 and they lived on Brunswick Street in the Wharf Street area. They were rehoused to the newly built New Parks estate, where Don became a activist in the tenants movement. For many years he was a stalwart of the Leicester Federation of Tenants Associations. Despite having eight children, Don and Doris were active campaigners. Don was active in the Peace movement even before the advent of C.N.D.

Don was an active Communist all his life. In the 1970s, he contested local council elections and was a candidate for the area secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. Despite his lack of votes in local elections, he was held in greater esteem by local people of New Parks than the candidates that they actually elected. Such was the stigma of Communism.

Although Don had retired from the pit by the time of the 1984 miner’s strike, he was active in support of the ‘Dirty 30,’ the Leicestershire miners who stayed out on strike. Don assembled a Leicester support group to collect food and money. This was so successful that they soon had two garages full of tinned food and were then able to take van loads on a regular basis to areas such as the North East, Yorkshire and Wales.

Don and Doris also worked for Progressive Tours which specialized in holidays to countries which were then part of the ‘Eastern Bloc.’ Don was not a Euro-communist and was always loyal to the Soviet Union. When the CPGB dissolved itself in 1989, he joined the CPB which had retained control of the Morning Star. He was chair of the local branch for many years.

He was chairman of the New Parks Community Project, which helped turn New Parks Community Adult Education Centre into a college. In the late 1980s, Don chaired the Leicester Committee Against the Poll Tax. He was also a delegate and executive member of Leicester Trades Council.

Sources: author’s personal knowledge. Interview with the author, (Leicester Oral History Archive.)


Doris Connolly

Born: Great Yarmouth, died: November 2009, aged 85 (Communist Party)

Doris Connolly was community stalwart on the New Parks estate and along with her husband Don, was a founder member of New Parks Residents' Association. They were instrumental in securing the New Parks Community Centre, in Oswalds Road, for the estate, and New Parks Adventure Playground, in Glenfield Road. Connolly Close, off Birkenshaw Road and named after the couple, includes eight council houses and two council flats, created as part of the city council's first new-build council house project in decades.

The pair were committed social campaigners and lifelong members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Mrs Connolly volunteered behind the bar at New Parks Community Centre and organised an annual Christmas toy collection for youngsters on the estate.


William Cooke

Born:  died:  (Owenite and Secularist)

In February 1844 a local committee of the Anti Persecution Union was formed with W.H. Holyoake Secretary and William Cooke was treasurer, He was a subscriber to the atheistical  Oracle of Reason. He then became a member of the Secular Society Committee in 1852. It is likely that he was also a member of the Owen's Rational Party.

Sources: Minutes of the Leicester Secular Society


James Cook(e)

Born: Oxcomb, Lincoln c1815 died: 1882 (Secularist)

James Cook moved to Leicester in the 1860s from Nottingham where he had worked as a bleacher. It is likely his wife died at an early age and he spent the remained of his life as a lodger. In 1873 he bought shares in the proposed Secular Hall and gave his occupation and address as a bookseller living an 24 Pocklingtons Walk. In 1881, aged 65, he was secretary of the Secular Society and had retired from bookselling. He lived on London Road (census says 35 Burton Street) . He must have been highly esteemed by his fellow Secularists, because in 1881 he was presented with a handsome portrait, in oil, of himself. The members of the Secular Club had subscribed for the painting, which was presented by Mr. Councillor Josiah Gimson at the Secular Hall, who spoke in eulogistic terms of Mr. Cooke's personal character and of his long service as a member of the Secularists. He died the following year.

Sources: Leicester Chronicle, Saturday 16 July 1881, Census, Minutes of the Leicester Secular Society

Thomas Cook

Born: 22nd November 1808, Melbourne, Derbyshire, died:18th July 1892

In addition to Thomas Cook’s well-documented activities as a travel agent and teetotaller, Cook was a pioneer of co-operation in Leicester (see entries for Merrick & Hemmings). He was also an advanced radical, a Corn Law repealer and Chartist. He denounced the British campaigns in China and Afghanistan and army recruitment campaigns in Leicester. He also published a paper entitled "War in India."

Cook was another of Leicester's radical Baptists, like J.P. Mursell and John Collier. He was brought up as a strict Baptist and in February 1826, became a Baptist missionary. He toured the region as a village evangelist, distributing pamphlets and occasionally working as a cabinet maker to earn money.

During the 1840s, Cook was also a supporter of Chartism and in 1842 he was president of the Chartist school that was run at All Saints Open. That year, a Mr Cook was also the mover of a resolution condemning Sturge's declaration for complete suffrage as falling short of the principles of the Charter. In 1848, he was of the organisers of the joint meeting between the middle class radicals and the Chartists and spoke at a meeting held in protest at the police violence meted out during the Poor-Law riots of that year. He was also a committee member of the Leicester Democratic Hall of Science, before becoming a Biggsite radical in the early 1850s.

 In 1842, Cook was chairman of the Allotment Society, along with the Chartist William Burden, which rented land from the Council. Since they were unable to grow potatoes that year, Thomas Cook acquired a 'cargo' of potatoes to sell to their members at about 1/- per strike. (1 strike = 9 bushels, heaped measure) According to Daniel Merrick, Cook helped set up a a short-lived Co-operative Society in the Amphitheatre, Humberstone Gate. It aimed to sell the ‘essentials of home consumption,’ selling potatoes from a yard on London Road and flour from a place for  in Bowling Green Street. Apart from Merrick's account, no contemporary press reports have been found for these activities, though Cook later refers our co-operative stores and people's mill.

Cook was also involved with both the Leicester Flour Mill Society and Leicester Cheap Bread Association. The Cheap Bread Association dates from 1847 and that year Cook stated that there were 2,000  members. One of the objects of the Association was to ensure that bakers did not sell bread under weight.  He produced a paper called 'Cook's Market Express' which he sold to fund the Association which bought loaves to check on their weight and whether the flour had been adulterated. He wrote:

That was a searching and trying day for the Leicester bakers and bread-sellers, when 120 loaves, called quartern loaves, and which were sold as for 41bs., weight, were purchased from almost every known bread-seller in the town, the price and name of the dealer being affixed to each loaf, and the whole weighed on the stage of the old Amphitheatre in the presence of 5,000 of the enraged populace the name of the baker or seller being announced in connection with the weight and price of his loaf.

The Flour Mill was intended to supply unadulterated flour at a lower price and 200 had enrolled themselves as shareholders in the Flour Mill Company. At a public meeting held in 1848, Cook urged people to buy £1 shares so a flour mill could be built. The Rev J. Bloodsworth, a complete suffragist was involved with this project, though it seems they were unable to raise sufficient capital for the project to proceed.

In 1865, Cook travelled to the USA to prepare for his first tour there the following year. Among those he visited was the former Chartist George Buckby who had also played a significant role in the campaign for cheap bread in the 1850s. Despite the repeal of the Corn Laws, the price of bread reached a new high in 1867 and once again Thomas Cook took up the cudgels on behalf of cheap bread urging that all bread be weighed. He remained implacably opposed to allowing the Secularists to use the Temperance Hall.

Sources: Chartist Pilot 24th July 1843, Leicester Chronicle, 9th October 1847, 24th February 1866, Leicester Mercury 12th March, 11th June 15th October 1842, 25th September, 20th November 18th December 1847, Leicester Mail, 23rd November 1867, Co-operation in Leicester, 1898, A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester,


Sam Cooper

Born: Northamptonshire (Labour Party), died: 16th Nov 1981, aged 93

Sam Cooper came to Leicester in 1914 and worked as a ticket collector on the railways. He was an active member of the NUR and was elected to the Board of Guardians in 1925. In 1930, he was elected from Charnwood ward to the City Council, becoming an alderman in 1952 and Lord Mayor in 1955. He took a great interest in welfare work, in particular the establishment of old peoples homes and the provision of services for the sick and disabled. He is commemorated by Sam Cooper House opened in 1957.


Thomas Cooper

Born: Leicester 20th March 1805, died: 1892 (Chartist leader)

The Chartist agitation in Leicester lasted for almost 15 years. Although, Thomas Cooper had a great impact on local Chartism, he was active as a Chartist in the town for only two years and was the only Leicester Chartist to attain anything like a national reputation His powerful speeches, his energy and drive and colourful personality left an indelible impression of his contemporaries. However he was also an egotist, self-opinionated and difficult to work with. He left no permanent mark on the local organisation, but his lasting influence was as an individual inspiration in the lives of other workingmen.

Thomas Cooper was born in the neighbourhood of the West Bridge, though he did not know where. Soon after  his family went to Gainsborough. Cooper had little formal education and began work as a shoemaker, whilst continuing to educate himself at home. He had an insatiable appetite for all kinds of reading. In 1828, he opened his own school in Gainsborough where at one time he had over a hundred pupils. However, his decision to provide lessons in Latin and Greek rather than concentrating on the basic subjects was unpopular with the parents and the school was eventually forced to close. Cooper then moved to Lincoln where he started another school for children. For five years he was a Weslyian preacher. He also taught in the Mechanics Institute in Lincoln and wrote articles for the local newspaper, the Lincoln Mercury and in time became a full-time journalist. Cooper’s articles for the Stamford, Lincoln and Rutland Mercury, criticising the some of the Anglican clergy in Lincoln, plus his friendship with J.F. Winks resulted in him being offered a post with the Non-conformist supporting Leicestershire Mercury.

Aged 35, he arrived back in Leicester in 1840, virtually a stranger in his native town. In November 1840 he was sent to report on a Chartist meeting. Cooper was impressed with the speaker, John Mason, a Tyneside shoemaker and also shocked by the accounts that people in the audience gave about their working and living conditions. As Cooper wrote in his article: “I had never, till now, had any experience of the condition of a great part of the manufacturing population.” After the meeting, Cooper decided to become a Chartist. He contributed articles anonymously to the Leicester Chartist paper the Midland Counties Illuminator, but after he published an article attacking Rev J.P. Mursell, the editor of the Mercury, he was given the sack by the Mercury.

He then became the Illuminator’s editor in 1840, at 30 shillings a week. Eventually, he took the paper over, but it failed. For two years he ran a succession of other unsuccessful Chartist newspapers including: the Chartists’ Rushlight, The Extinguisher, Commonwealthian and the Chartist Pioneer. In April 1841, he was elected secretary of the local Chartist association and began to conduct open-air preaching, lecturing on a variety of subjects using the revivalist methods of his Weslyian days. He championed and idolised Fergus O’Connor the advocate of physical force Chartism.

During the winter of 1841-42, Cooper provoked a bitter quarrel within in the local Chartist ranks. He saw himself as leader and wanted direct control of the local Chartist movement with others like John Markham serving as his lieutenants. However, Markham did not see Fergus O'Connor as the greatest living Chartist and Leicester Chartism split into two wings. Cooper set up the Shakespearean Brigade of Leicester Chartists, which met in the Shakespeare Rooms of the Amphitheatre in Humberstone Gate. Markham's All Saints Chartists met at the All Saints rooms.

Under Cooper’s leadership, there was a marked increase in Chartist membership from 460 in October 1841 to c 3,000 at the end of 1842. Cooper’s Shakespearean Adult Sunday School was attended by ‘many scores’ of men and boys during the winter of 1841-42 and Cooper encouraged other would-be Chartist poets. Together with William Jones and John Henry Bramwich he wrote ‘the Leicester Shakespearean Chartist Hymnbook.’ Cooper was described as having the power of a king over the starving multitude of the ‘Shaksperian Brigade’ and as their ‘General’ was not afraid to use his power to undermine the meetings of other Chartist leaders, Complete Suffragists and Corn Law repealers.

Gammage, who wrote a history of Chartism and visited Cooper in Leicester wrote: it was easy to see the elements of which O'Connorism was composed, viz., ignorance and fanaticism.... Reason was trampled under foot; passion, led by the spirit of demagogueism was rampant; and no man stood the slightest chance who had courage enough to diverge from the path marked out by O'Connor and the Northern Star.

In August, 1842, Cooper attended the National Charter Association Conference in Manchester which was followed by strikes and riots. Cooper was arrested while visiting Burslem and was accused of inciting arson. He was found not guilty, but was charged with sedition and released on bail. He then returned to Leicester; where he made peace with Markham. In order to raise funds for the defence, he staged two performances of Hamlet with himself in the title role. At his second trial he was found guilty and was sentenced to two years in Stafford prison in May 1843. His imprisonment for seditious conspiracy brought his leadership of Chartism in Leicester to an end. During his incarceration, Cooper he wrote his epic Chartist poem: ‘The Purgatories of Suicide.’  and on his release from prison in 1845 , he went to London. It is probable that his £200 debts prevented him from returning to Leicester. Whilst in prison, his wife, Susanna Cooper, edited and published the first edition of the Chartist Pilot, the only such Chartist journal with a woman in such a leading role.

Soon after his release, Cooper criticised O'Conner for his failure to support Republicanism and criticised Connor's ill-fated land scheme. For his pains, Cooper was branded a traitor by the O'Connorites, though Cooper made amends with the other moral force Chartist leaders. His links with Leicester were hard to break and in June 1849 and in 1851 he put himself forward as a parliamentary candidate for Leicester. He intended to stand in support of the Charter and John Markham offered support, but, lacking money, Cooper was forced to withdraw. By this time, he had once again came to the come to the fore of radical politics as an editor of the radical publications: The Plain Speaker and Cooper's Journal.

He had now become drawn towards Freethinking, delivering a course of lectures on the Myths or Legends of the Four Gospels, which debunked several Bible stories. During Cooper's sourjourn in Leicester he had enjoyed good relations with the Socialists (Owenites). He had not disrupted their meetings and debated with them in a friendly manner. They had also chaired a meeting asking for his release.

For some years, he continued to lecture, write poetry as well as novels and foster new radical publications. In 1856, he dramatically abandoned his religious scepticism and became a Baptist convert, being baptised by his old friend J. F. Winks. He thereafter abandoned politics spending most of his time as a travelling preacher. When he was in his sixties, he wrote his autobiography: The Life of Thomas Cooper (1872)

Following Cooper's death in 1892, J.W. (Paddy) Logan, MP for Harborough and James Holmes were among those who proposed that Leicester should have a memorial to Thomas Cooper. Although a fund was set up, the committee was unable to raise sufficient money. However, there is now a blue plaque on the 18th century building at 11 Church Gate where Cooper had his coffee shop.

Sources: Northern Star, 6th September 1845, Leicester Chronicle, 6th August 1892, 15 October 1892, 6th May 1893 A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, Thomas Cooper, The Life of Thomas Cooper, 1872, J.F.C. Harrison, Chartism in Leicester, published in Chartist Studies Asa Briggs (ed) 1959, The Reasoner 1848, Stephen Roberts Thomas Cooper in Leicester, 1840-1843  LAHS Transactions LXI 1987 and The Later Radical Career of Thomas Cooper, LAHS Transactions LXIV 1990 R. G. Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement 1837-1854, 1894


George Cores

Born: St Georges, London 1869, died: 1949 (Socialist League, Anarchist-Communist Group)

George Cores was a fiery anarchist shoemaker. (1901 census gives his place of birth as St Georges in the East End of London) By 1887, he was secretary of the Hackney branch of the Socialist League and then moved to Leicester c1890 where he worked as a laster in the shoe trade. He also became an occasional editor of the Commonweal when the editor David Nichol was arrested for incitement to murder. He then moved to Walsall where he co-ordinated support of the imprisoned Walsall anarchists.

In February 1893, he got work again in Leicester and was active in the unofficial strikes in the boot and shoe trade. He was a member of the Leicester branch executive, where he and T.F. Richards fought against the domination of William Inskip. Cores was a staunch member of the Freedom circle, but was at odds with his fellow anarchists over his support and belief in trade union organisation. He was a delegate to the Trades Council and was secretary of the organising committee of Leicester’s first May Day demonstration in 1893. Thereafter, the Trades Council took over the organisation of these events. He was also involved in the establishment of the Leicester Labour Club in May 1893. He moved back to London soon after.

Sources: George Cores: Personal Recollections of the Anarchist Past, 1947

Richard Cort

Born: 1858 (Liberal), died Leicester 1922

Richard Cort joined NUBSO, when it was formed, at the age of 17. By 1903, he had served thirteen years as a full-time official, eight years as president and five years as secretary of Leicester No 1 branch. He was also a delegate to the Trades Council. During the strike of 1895, which lasted six weeks, practically the whole of the local control of the strike was in his hands. He was a strong supporter of local arbitration. For nine years he served on the Board of Guardians.

However, Leicester No 1 branch was by far the largest and wealthy in the union, having paid for the building of the Trades Hall. In 1905, it was discovered that about £600 had been embezzled. Although nothing was ever proved in the courts, since the union was advised that proof would be difficult, the suspicion fell upon Cort. Both he and the branch treasurer were suspended. In 1911, he had left the shoe trade and was working as a Labour Superintendent for the Board of Guardians, presumably putting the unemployed to the labour 'test.'.

Sources: Leicester Pioneer 28th June 1902, Alan Fox, A History of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Workers, 1958, Census Returns

Louie Croxtall

Born: 1914, died Leicester 2018 (Secularist)

During the 1930s, Louie's father, Albert O. Worley (1876-1951) was manager of the Secular Hall and family lived in the manager's accommodation at the Hall.  She had joined the Leicester Secular Society at the age of 16 in 1930 and was witness to a huge range of speakers from Annie Besant to Tony Benn. Her youth was spent in the many social activities which revolved around the Hall, drama, dance and cycling. She only moved from the Hall when she married Lesley Croxtall.

Louie's commitment to Leicester Secular Society was second to none and she served in a variety of roles over the years, including on the Committee and the Rationalist Trust which at that time managed the Hall's maintenance. Together with her Lesley, she rescued the Society with a financial loan at a time when it was threatened with closure. After World War Two, the Secular Society's membership went into serious decline and she was one of a few which kept both the Society and the Hall going until membership grew once again. From the 1970s to the 1990's she effectively managed the Hall taking bookings from various groups. More than anyone else, it was Louie who kept the Hall going as a resource for all the different groups that met there.

Throughout her life, she never missed an opportunity to talk about the Secular Society to those she met. She had a great deal of charm and some very forthright views.  At the age of 96, she gave a lecture to the Society and at the age of 99, following a showing of the film about the Society in wartime, she stood and insisted on speaking, entirely impromptu, on what the Society had meant to her.

Sources: OHA interview with Louie Croxtall, 1994, Gillian Lighton.

Martin Curley

Born: Stafford, 2nd September 1859 (S.D.F., I.L.P.& Labour Party), died 1922

Martin Curley’s parents came from Ireland at the time of the famine in 1847. His father died when he was only 16 months old, leaving his mother alone to battle for four young children. At eight years of age he worked on a shoemaker's bench for a few weeks. but then went back again to school where he remained for two years. In 1870 he left Stafford for Chester, and after varied ramblings found himself in London, where he stayed nine months. At this time there was a severe epidemic of small-pox raging in London, and Curley fell a victim to it. All the hospitals were full of patients, and barges were requisitioned down the Thames for the reception of sufferers. Having already been vaccinated, his experience convinced him that vaccination was a failure, and he remained strongly opposed to it.

In 1880, he joined the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives, and had just come into benefit at the time of his illness. He was thus able to practically feel the benefits of the Union in the shape of sick pay. From London he found his way to Leicester. In Leicester he worked as a shoe riveter and soon took an active part in the doings of Branch (No. 1) of the Union. He became one of T.F. Richards’ staunch lieutenants. In 1892, at one of the largest ever meetings of the No 1. Branch, he carried a resolution in favour of all work being done inside factories, aiming to counter the predilection for ‘sweating,’ that was then rife. It was claimed that this had a remarkable effect upon the industry, since by 1903 very little work was being given out to be done at home.

Curley was a member of the S.D.F. and in October 1892, he stood in Latimer Ward standing as the "National Independent Labour Party" candidate and got 255 votes.  He left the S.D.F. to become a founder member of the local I.L.P. branch. In 1894, Curley stood for the I.L.P. and increased his vote in Latimer, but this time Liberals were better organised with more workers and carriages.

At this time he worked at Stead and Simpsons and was an ardent supporter of co-operative production. Following the success of Equity shoes, he believed union funds should be used to start co-operatives. In the early 1890s, he was secretary of the Labour Club was responsible for reducing the influence of the Anarchists in the Club.

He was been on the Executive Council of his union branch and was a delegate to the National Union Biennial Conferences a number of times. He was a member of the Board of Arbitration during the time of the 1896 strike. He became president of the Trades Council 1903 and was first president of the Labour Representation Committee in 1903-1904. From February 1910, he was secretary of the Trades Council and was thus described:

There is little doubt Mr. Curley, being still in the Prime of life and full of ‘go’ and enthusiasm, will be heard of frequently in the future annals of his adopted town.

In February 1910, Curley resigned as secretary of the Trades Council as he had been appointed deputy manager of the new Labour Exchange in Leicester. The following year he was promoted to become the manager of the Labour Exchange in Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.

Sources: Leicester Chronicle, 15th October 1892, 3rd November 1894, Leicester Daily Post 14th September 1911, Leicester Trades Council, T.U.C. Leicester Official Souvenir, 1903, Bill Lancaster, Radicalism Co-operation and Socialism, Alan Fox, A History of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Workers, 1958

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© Ned Newitt Last revised: May 11, 2021.



















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